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NEWS | Dec. 6, 2022

People First: The Importance of Legal Assistance for Soldiers and Their Families

By Capt. Nancy Drapeza U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command

Judge advocates and paralegals of the 151st Legal Operations Detachment (LOD) provided legal assistance to over 70 Army Reserve Soldiers of the 18th Field Hospital during their Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP) event at the Fort Story Army Reserve Center on Nov. 19-20, 2022.

Capt. Jessica Denison (Buffalo, N.Y.), Headquarters, Headquarters Company commander of the 18th Field Hospital, planned and oversaw this SRP for over 180 Army Reserve Soldiers to prioritize readiness at the individual level in preparation for upcoming mobilizations or deployments. The SRP focused on administrative and medical readiness, such as reviewing human resources records, scheduling physical health assessments, and providing legal assistance to support Soldiers and their Families.

Staff Sgt. Erica Alvidrez (Los Angeles, Calif.), was the legal assistance program manager in support of this SRP. Alvidrez enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2013 and reclassified as a paralegal in the U.S. Army Reserve in 2019. She shared that having the ability to help people is what makes her proud to serve, “I volunteer for all SRPs because you get a chance to speak with Soldiers and some of them who have never been on active duty. They’re nervous, so it’s an opportunity not just to get them squared away legally, but also help them feel more confident in going and doing something new.”

She advises the importance of SRPs like these to ensure Soldiers and their Families are aware of the legal services and resources available. Details such as names on mortgages and deeds, to beneficiaries on wills, to assigning powers of attorney, are among the many items Soldiers learned were possible to create, update and organize at these events.

Capt. Tricia Nicewicz (Columbus, OH) led the legal assistance team that weekend as an Army Reserve judge advocate. She expressed that while many Soldiers believe they may not need legal assistance, speaking with a paralegal and walking through scenarios may still be beneficial for them and/or their Family.

For example, Nicewicz reframed the importance of an advance medical directive to provide for their loved ones in the event of making a major decision regarding that Soldier’s care. “As Soldiers, a lot of times we’re told not to think about ourselves. We’re in this uniform to put others’ needs above our own and so I remind them,” Nicewicz explained, “that applies to their Families too: in a time of emotional crisis, their Family doesn’t have to wonder about what they would want. It’s there, it’s notarized, and they won’t end up in a scenario where there is fighting among Family members in that emotional time.”

It is recommended any time a Soldier has a major life event, to update their will accordingly. The most common updates Nicewicz encounters include adding segments to include future children, updating the loss or gain of property, and confirming beneficiaries in the event of marriage or divorce.

“Legal assistance to me is one of the most important missions we could do,” she said. “You’re not just helping that Soldier; you’re helping their Families in case the absolute worst thing happens. For me and these SRPs, it's about being able to give those Soldiers and their Families peace of mind. What greater service can I do than to give back to the people who are leaving their homes and possibly putting their lives on that line… making sure that when they do that, they know their Families are taken care of.”

Legal assistance is available and free for all Soldiers and can be requested through the U.S Army Reserve Legal Command website at Soldiers may also utilize the website to find an LOD near them to request support. While legal assistance may focus on last wills and testaments, powers of attorney, and medical directives, the U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command and the greater Army also provide legal services to include military justice, special victims legal counseling, and trial defense services.