When you find yourself in need of help in estate planning, tax-related issues or any number of other legal matters, sound advice can save you a fortune in time and trouble. Fortunately, through the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program, eligible service members and their families can easily access a broad range of free legal services and advice. If you or your family member falls into one of the following categories, you are eligible for free legal assistance through the program:
- All active-duty service members, certain reservists and members of the National Guard on active duty for 30 days or more, as well as their family members with DoD ID cards
- Retired service members and their immediate family members with DoD ID cards; for the purposes of the Legal Assistance Program, a retired service member is defined as any service member entitled to retired or retainer pay or equivalent pay, any former member of the Reserve Component entitled to retired pay and service members receiving retired pay as a result of retirement due to permanent disability or placement on the temporary disabled retired list
Others who may be eligible for legal services include:
- Survivors of eligible members and retirees
- Certain DoD civilians and their families, generally only when serving with the military in a foreign country or preparing to deploy to or serving in a theater of operations (there are certain other circumstances under which they may be entitled to use legal assistance services)
- Contractors and accompanying family members only when accompanying the military outside of the United States, if their contract states that DoD must provide legal assistance
- Certain overseas civilian employees and their family members
- Allied forces service members serving with U.S. military services within the continental United States and their family members
- Prisoners who have been discharged from military service and are confined within a U.S. military facility
Eligibility for members of the National Guard and reserve
Reserve Component service members are eligible to use Legal Assistance Program services if they fit into one of the following three categories:
- On active-duty orders for a period of more than 29 days
- Undergoing premobilization legal preparation
- For a certain period of time, following release from a period of active duty of at least 29 days
Available services vary depending on which eligibility category is applicable. For those on active duty for more than 29 days, all legal assistance services are available to members and their families. Following release from active duty of more than 29 days, Reserve Component service members and their families are eligible for all services for a period of time equal to twice the length of service of active duty, beginning on the date of their release from active duty. For Reserve Component service members undergoing premobilization legal preparation, available services are usually restricted to those associated with mobilization or deployment (for example, drafting/updating wills, advance medical directives, powers of attorney, etc.) and are available only to the Reserve Component service member.
When the Reserve Component member is on active duty for a period of 29 days or fewer, installation attorneys may be able to provide legal assistance based on availability and the expertise of attorneys in the office. In this case, available legal assistance services are typically restricted to emergency situations or certain categories of cases. More information about services available to Reserve Component members on active duty for 29 days or fewer can be found by contacting your installation legal assistance office.
Finally, although not specified in law or DoD policy, legal assistance services are usually provided first to those in greatest need. Service members preparing for mobilization or deployment are typically served first, followed by active-duty service members, their family members, Reserve Component service members on active duty for more than 29 days and their family members.