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Letters to the 107th Congress

September 5, 2001

The Honorable Bob Stump
Committee on Armed Services
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Ike Skelton
Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Stump and Representative Skelton:

I understand that you are scheduled to consider the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002 in the near future. I am writing on behalf of the American Bar Association to express our support for Section 574 of the House version of the bill (H.R. 2586).

Last month, the ABA adopted policy in favor of amending Section 1588 of Title 10 U.S.C. expressly to permit the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force and the Secretary of Transportation to accept voluntary legal services. The ABA policy also would protect legal professionals from liability while they are in the midst of providing military legal assistance services. A provision to achieve this result was included as part of Section 574 during the House Armed Services Committee's markup of H.R. 2586.

Over the past several years, there have been increased military deployments overseas and a reduction in available military legal staff and resources. As a result, the need for civil legal assistance in the military has increased. Most of those serviced by military legal systems are low-income. Unfortunately, there has been inadequate provision of legal assistance for those in the military, due to substantial budget and personnel cuts. Failure to supplement existing legal services has led to the serious curtailment of either the scope of services offered and/or those served.

Pursuant to federal law, free legal assistance worldwide is provided for military personnel and their family members on an "as resources permit" basis. Military legal assistance for low-income clients is provided at the discretion of the service secretary and often must be supplemented by existing resources provided by community legal services programs.
Civil legal assistance often receives low priority by the military legal staff.

Both the organized bar and the retired military legal community are eager to assist active duty military attorneys by supplementing available resources with voluntary legal services. Yet while Section 1588 allows the service secretaries to accept voluntary services in many areas (e.g. medical, dental, nursing, religious, housing, library), the statute does not expressly provide for the acceptance of voluntary legal services. Section 574 would address this concern by adding legal services to the list of voluntary services that can be accepted by the service secretaries.

Volunteers who provide the services currently listed in Section 1588 of Title 10 U.S. C. are treated as employees of the federal government while performing voluntary services, and are generally exempted from tort claims. Instead, the United States accepts liability on the volunteer's behalf. Section 574 would provide exemption from legal malpractice liability for those who provide voluntary legal services.

As the world's largest voluntary professional association, with over 400,000 members, the American Bar Association urges you and your colleagues to support Section 574 of H.R. 2586, so that the civil legal needs of the members of our armed forces can be met through volunteered sources.


Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

cc: Members of the Committee

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