Laxalt proposes free legal services for military, veterans

Attorney general candidate Adam Laxalt, a former judge advocate general in the Navy, on Wednesday proposed setting up a new division in Nevada’s top law enforcement office to offer free legal services to active duty members of the military, reservists and veterans.

Laxalt said the division would involve a public-private partnership between the AG’s office and Nevada lawyers who are willing to do pro bono work to help soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deal with everything from home foreclosures and job problems to personal debt, taxes, adoptions, divorces and wills.

Laxalt said JAG officers now deal with military justice, including courts-martial, and act as legal advisers to commanding officers, but can’t do much to help veterans and members of the military, the Nevada Guard and reserves with personal legal problems. JAG officers can’t file lawsuits on behalf of military members and veterans, for example, and they’re usually not members of the State Bar of Nevada, Laxalt said.

“No one knows where to get legal services,” Laxalt said in an interview, adding that many veterans are on fixed incomes and members of the active duty military often have low incomes. “The good thing about this is it will be the one place where you can get legal help.”

Laxalt, a Republican, said the proposed division wouldn’t add new costs to the attorney general’s office because he would designate two deputy attorneys general to handle the work and reach out to Nevada’s legal community for volunteers. Laxalt said his goal is to contribute 2,000 hours of free legal services from the attorney general’s office out of a total of 10,000 hours a year for the proposed program.

Laxalt said he patterned his proposed new division after a similar program in Ohio. At first, he said the two deputy attorneys general involved in the program would likely work out of Carson City to launch the initiative, but he envisions working statewide to offer legal services to military personnel and veterans.

Nevada is home to several major military bases, including Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base and the Fallon Naval Air Station.

A recent report commissioned by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval examined the needs of Nevada veterans and active duty personnel. Its findings “showed how our veterans and their families desperately need certain legal services,” Laxalt said.

The report was put together by the Interagency Council on Veterans Affairs, which surveyed 220,000 members of the military in Nevada, according to Laxalt. Some 61 percent said improved legal services is a top priority, he said.

The attorneys involved in the new division of the AG’s office also would target fraud, including associations “attempting to defraud the public or veterans community for the supposed purpose of supporting veterans,” according to Laxalt’s plan.

Laxalt, who served in Iraq, was responsible for protecting active duty and reservists “from wartime legal vulnerabilities.”

The proposed division has the support of U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., a U.S. Army reservist and a physician who also has been deployed to Iraq.

“As a military commander, I know how hard it is for junior enlisted to afford legal services for civilian matters,” Heck said in a statement. “Additionally, with a growing community of veterans, many of whom are on fixed incomes, this innovative proposal will help ensure those who serve or have served our nation will receive legal representation when needed.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., a former JAG officer as well, also supports Laxalt’s proposal along with Nevada Assemblyman Wes Duncan, R-Las Vegas, who served in Iraq as a judge advocate like Laxalt.

In the attorney general’s race, Laxalt is facing Democrat Ross Miller, now Nevada’s secretary of state. The general election is Nov. 4.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.