You Can’t Handle the Truth! Guest post by Bacilio Mendez II, Diversity Committee Chair, SLA Legal Division

Whether or not you are a Nicholson, Cruise, or Moore fan, you will recognize May’s theme—Military Law, in honor of the United State’s National Military Appreciation Month—as being lifted from “A Few Good Men”(directed by Reiner and written by Sorkin).

I chose this quote specifically because, when a news story breaks involving military law those with a casual understanding and intense knowledge of the American Legal System alike, oftentimes, let out a common and collective “Say what?”. (Plus, I thought it was a more current reference than the old chestnut about the “Sole Surviving Son or Daughter/Special Separation Policies for Survivorship” and “The Fighting Sullivans” ofWaterloo, Iowa.)

First, a little background …

“Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month in 1999 to ensure the nation was given the opportunity to publically demonstrate their appreciation for the sacrifices and successes made by our servicemembers – past and present. Each year the president makes a proclamation, reminding Americans of the important role the U.S. Armed Forces have played in the history and development of our country.

“May was selected because it has most days set aside for celebrating and commemorating our military’s achievements. These days include Loyalty Day, which was established in 1921, Victory in Europe (VE) Day commemorating the end of WWII in Europe on May 8, 1945, Armed Forces Day created in 1949, Military Spouse Appreciation Day established in 1984, and of course the best known of the May holidays, Memorial Day.

“Memorial Day, is the only federal holiday in May and is celebrated on the last Monday of the month. The day, dating from the Civil War era, traditionally has marked recognition of those who have died in service to the nation. Each year on Memorial Day, the White House Commission on Remembrance promotes one minute of silence at 3 p.m. local time to honor the military’s fallen comrades and to pay tribute to the sacrifices by the nation’s service members and veterans.

“National Military Appreciation Month started as a simple idea; to gather America around its military family to honor, remember, recognize and appreciate those who have served and those now serving and to know the history behind it all. Subsequent formal legislation informs our servicemembers that their country has set aside an entire month to honor, remember and appreciate them.

“In 1999, legislation passed in the U.S. Senate designating May as National Military Appreciation Month, with the support and sponsorship of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) of San Diego and over 50 veteran service organizations. In April 2004 more comprehensive legislation was passed by unanimous consent of both Houses of Congress, H. Con. Res. 328, that May is National Military Appreciation Month and urges the President to issue an annual proclamation calling on the American people to recognize this special month of May through appropriate ceremonies and events.” (source)

Now, the list below will obviously not fully demystify Military Law for you, but, hopefully, it will give you a better idea of where/whom to look to gain some understanding of it. After all, in many instances, it’s not about whether you can handle the truth (read: law), it’s about whether or not you understand it.

ABA Books of Interest

  • The American Bar Association Legal Guide for Military Families: Everything You Need to Know about Family Law, Estate Planning, and the Service Members Civil Relief Act is the complete resource for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. This guide will help all servicemembers clarify their legal issues, understand the options, and locate assistance. Topics are presented in an easy-to-read format and every chapter includes a resources section with phone numbers, websites, and contacts to help servicemembers find answers and move forward.
  • The Military Law Sourcebook is your complete guide to all the acts, codes, and conventions governing U.S. military law, including: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; Federal Tort Claims Act; Military Claims Act; National Guard Tort Claims Act; Foreign Claims Act; Military Personnel and Civilian Employees Claims Act; Francis Lieber s Code; The Geneva Conventions; The Hague Conventions; Patriot Act; Servicemembers Civil Relief Act; The Uniform Code of Military Justice; and Uniformed Service member Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
  • The Military Divorce Handbook: A Practical Guide to Representing Military Personnel and Their Families, Second Edition, guides you through the complexities of all aspects of representing military personnel or their spouses to help you provide competent and thorough representation for your client. Key chapters explain the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), military tax issues, and the important issue of dividing military retirement benefits. Also, covered are the difficult and increasingly important issues of custody and domestic violence involving servicemembers.
  • A Judge’s Benchbook for the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is designed to acquaint judges of all levels regarding the provisions that protect servicemembers while they serve on active duty. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is especially important today given that hundreds of thousands of members of the National Guard and Reserves of the U.S. Armed Forces have been mobilized and sent overseas, removing them from their ability to represent themselves and their families’ interests first hand. Many judges are unfamiliar with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which literally can alter the terms of conventional contracts and obligations and alters the means by which creditors can enforce these obligations.

CLEs/Videos of Interest

Websites of Interest

  • Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) Website — SCRA is a program that provides certain protections from civil actions against servicemembers who are called to Active Duty. It restricts or limits actions against these personnel in the areas of financial management, such as rental agreements, security deposits, evictions, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgages, civil judicial proceedings, income tax payments, and more.
  • Military Law News Network
  • The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ, 64 Stat. 109, 10 U.S.C. Chapter 47), is the foundation of military law in the United States. The UCMJ applies to all members of the Uniformed services of the United States: the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. The Coast Guard is administered under Title 14 of the United States Code when not operating as part of the U.S. Navy. However, commissioned members of the NOAA and PHS are only subject to the UCMJ when attached or detailed to a military unit or are militarized by presidential executive order.
  • National Veterans Legal Service Program
  • The ABA Military Pro Bono Project accepts case referrals from military attorneys on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel and their families with civil legal problems, and it places these cases with pro bono attorneys where the legal assistance is needed. The Project is also the platform for Operation Stand-By, through which military attorneys may seek attorney-to-attorney advice to further assist their servicemember clients.
  • Stateside Legal
  • The Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program exists so the Army can prevent sexual harassment and sexual assaults before they occur.  Our goal is to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assaults by creating a climate that respects the dignity of every member of the Army Family.
  • U.S. Armed Services Legal Services Locator
  • The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) is the organization responsible for the oversight of Department of Defense (DoD) sexual assault policy. The Department of Defense is committed to the prevention of sexual assault. The Department has implemented a comprehensive policy to ensure the safety, dignity and well being of all members of the Armed Forces. Our men and women serving throughout the world deserve nothing less, and their leaders — both Military and civilian — are committed to maintaining a workplace environment that rejects sexual assault and reinforces a culture of prevention, response and accountability.
  • The National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force includes attorneys, legal workers, law students and “Barracks lawyers” interested in draft, military and veterans issues. It is a standing project of the National Lawyers Guild. MLTF assists those working on military law issues as well as military law counselors working directly with GIs. It trains and mentors counselors and beginning military law attorneys in all aspects of military law through training materials and direct communication. It tracks changes in military law and policy. The Task Force publishes ON WATCH, produces interim mailings on legal and political issues for Task Force members, sponsors seminars and workshops on draft, military and veterans law, produces educational materials on these issues, and provides support for members on particular cases or projects. It sponsors legal and educational work on military dissent, the rights of servicemembers, and challenges to oppressive military policies.

Bacilio Mendez II,  Diversity Committee Chair, SLA Legal Division

A version of this post was originally published on the SLA Legal Division Blog.