Op-Ed: Protecting Our Service Members, as They Protect Us
Hardly a day goes by without a reminder of the valiant efforts and sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in our nation’s military. Active duty soldiers and sailors, reservists and the National Guard are the front-line defenders of our country in the global war on terror. They represent the face of democracy in faraway lands. Yet too often, on the home front, they meet with unfair treatment.
The brave men and women who are our nation’s service members place themselves in harm’s way to protect the rights and freedoms our nation holds dear. In return we in the legal profession must do our best to safeguard their legal rights, so that they are not diminished as a result of their military service.
Last year, at the beginning of my term as ABA president, I asked the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance to Military Personnel to appoint a working group, to examine the current laws as they relate to the men and women serving in our military and to recommend new safeguards and legal protections. After a yearlong review, the committee has issued its Report on the Rights of Service Members, which underscores the urgent need for better legal protections for the men and women who place their lives on the line in service to their country.
In examining a number of critical areas, including family support, child custody, housing, tax laws, tuition benefits, and voting and employment rights, the committee determined that service members many times encounter undue inequities and challenges to their and their families’ well-being. Many of these disadvantages stem from the frequent relocation that military service demands, as well as from the prolonged periods of absence that duty in the reserves and guard requires.
The report makes readily apparent that there is a critical lack of consistency among the states in the laws and regulations that have an impact on service members and their families. They need a level of predictability—be it in civilian employment upon return from military deployment, qualifying for in-state tuition rates by a service member or her college-age dependents, or being able to break a lease because of military relocation, no matter whether a spouse is also included on the lease—so that they can focus on their work as the defenders of our country.
The legal and business communities, as well as our state and national lawmakers, should do better by those who sacrifice so much. We can work together to ensure that voting rights are fully protected and that service members have the best possible opportunity to vote effectively. We can work together to better inform the state and federal judiciary about new laws under the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act, because an informed judiciary is the greatest protection against exploitation and disadvantage our men and women in military service can possibly have. And we can work together to see that a service member relocated from Mississippi to Texas can reasonably expect to find the same legal safeguards, whether in Biloxi or Fort Worth.
Our service members protect the freedom and security we, as Americans, hold dear. Our nation’s laws should do no less in protecting theirs and their families’ rights and peace of mind.