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Guard Families Have Access to Free Legal Counsel

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 4, 2005 – Members of the National Guard mobilized for federal duty, along with their families, can get free counsel at any active duty military installation that has a legal assistance office. That's the word from Air National Guard Maj. Tom Serrano who is a lawyer at the National Guard Bureau.

That's especially important for the families of mobilized Guard members who may have to deal with legal issues in the wake of one of this country's historic natural disasters.

"National Guard families are entitled to legal assistance," Serrano said. "They can contact the legal assistance office on an active duty base for many kinds of legal assistance they may need."

Yes, he added, an Army Guard family can even turn to the Navy for help. There are several active duty installations in the region stricken by Katrina that can offer this free legal help. Legal assistance links can be found through each service's family assistance Web sites.

Neither Guard members who have been placed on state active duty nor their families qualify for free legal assistance, Serrano said.

"Families of activated and deployed reservists can use the legal offices at nearby installations," states the Military Times' 2005 Handbook for the Guard & Reserve. "Service members can get free legal advice on a variety of problems, from writing wills and understanding rental contracts to dealing with creditors. This includes reservists who are ordered to active duty."

"Legal assistance attorneys do not represent clients facing military or civilian criminal charges or assist clients on matters relating to private business ventures," the handbook further states.

Serrano offered these additional tips to National Guard families who are faced with putting their lives back together: -- It is never too late to obtain a power of attorney. That is particularly important for the spouse of a National Guard Soldier or Airman who deployed to some place a long way from home, such as Iraq or Afghanistan, without taking care of that detail.

Guard members can get powers of attorney from military lawyers in their areas of operation and mail them home. Serrano acknowledged that the hurricane and subsequent flooding could pose some challenges as far as getting the legal document into the right hands.

But he stressed that powers of attorney can be obtained at any time. He also explained that the circumstances of the storm do not warrant special considerations. In other words, the hurricane and flooding may not guarantee a higher priority, but the process can still be completed in a timely manner if people can work out the logistical details.

Do not take unnecessary chances to get your life back to normal. Do not give people money simply because they promise to repair your roof or remove that uprooted tree from your living room. You may never see them, or your money, again, said Serrano who assisted military families in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.

If someone you do not know approaches you with an offer to repair your home, make sure they are legally bonded, that they have a certificate of insurance, that they can prove who they are and who they represent before doing business with them, Serrano advised.

(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)

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