Donated Legal Services Exceed $3 Million
“Thank you is not enough” continues to be the battle cry for 779 volunteer attorneys who support the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Oklahoma Lawyers for America’s Heroes Program by giving free legal advice to active duty servicemen and women and veterans.
Since the program was launched on Veterans Day 2010, Oklahoma lawyers throughout the state have helped 4,542 people with free legal advice totaling $3,216,000.
OBA President Linda Thomas of Bartlesville said, “Our mission is to offer one-on-one legal advice and assistance to veterans and active or reserve members of the U.S. armed forces who are or have honorably served this nation and who otherwise cannot afford or do not have access to the legal services they need.”
To qualify for legal assistance through the program, a “Hero” must 1) be a veteran of the U.S. armed forces, currently active or on reserve duty for the U.S. armed forces; 2) if on active duty or a member of the guard or reserves, the Hero’s pay grade must be an E-6 or below; 3) if a veteran, the Hero’s gross income per year cannot exceed $40,000. All income is considered; 4) if a veteran, the Hero must have an honorable discharge; and 5) have a legal issue within the state of Oklahoma and cannot be currently represented by counsel.
Nearly half of the legal problems service members face involve domestic issues such as divorce, adoption and paternity. About 15 percent of legal services given are a combination of civil issues including employment and military-related issues. Criminal issues represent about 13 percent and debt issues such as foreclosures, garnishments and bankruptcies are about 8 percent. Other legal needs are disability, real estate, tort/personal injury and estate planning and probate.
Also lawyers on the OBA Military Assistance Committee partner with other organizations to give free legal advice at legal clinics held before a unit deploys and again when they return.
Need for Volunteer Lawyers Is Critical
Program Coordinator Margaret Travis said, “Our greatest need is for family law attorneys. Of course, we need them in the big counties -- Tulsa, Comanche and Oklahoma counties – but also in the smaller counties. I currently have a Hero in Sequoyah County who has been on my list for more than a year, and she lives in fear her ex-boyfriend will take her baby. Because there is no custody order in place, she won’t be able to stop him. I also have a Hero in McIntosh County who hasn’t seen his kids in more than a year because his ex-wife stopped bringing them to their meeting place for their visitation. The help our attorneys gives to our Heroes is irreplaceable.”
An updated website at www.okbarheroes.org makes it easy to sign up online as a volunteer. Another option is to call Ms. Travis at 405-416-7086 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Program founder and 2011 OBA President Deborah Reheard said, “Handling a case for one of America’s Heroes or their family will be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have as an attorney. You will never feel more rewarded or more proud of your profession than when you help one of America’s Heroes.”