As Attorney General, I remain committed to standing up for Washington’s veterans and military families. As someone who comes from a family of veterans, this is important to me and I know Washingtonians feel the same way. This update shares highlights of the work we are doing at the Attorney General’s Office to support the men and women who have served or are currently serving our country in uniform.
It is an honor to be able to give back to Washington’s veterans, military personnel, and their families who have sacrificed so much for our state and our nation. You can learn more about the Attorney General’s Office’s past efforts on behalf of veterans and military families by reading my previous updates and reviewing the resources available at www.atg.wa.gov/veteran-and-military-resources.
Washington Attorney General
After I became Attorney General in 2013, my office released a “Military & Veteran Legal Resource Guide” to help veterans, military service members, and their families understand the legal rights and protections that are available to them. Produced in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and many others, the guide summarizes many of the federal and state laws that benefit veterans and military service members because of their service in uniform.
Notable changes in the updated version of the guide include:
Recent additions to state laws related to employment protections, in-state tuition and other education benefits;
Federal regulatory revisions regarding the implementation and application of the Military Lending Act;
An official Attorney General's opinion related to military leave for public employees; and
A description of how to obtain certification as a military service member/veteran-owned business.
As part of my office's initiative to stand up for Washington’s veterans and military service members, one of the identified strategic goals is to encourage the development of policies that benefit that population. One way of doing this is by promoting and supporting legislation.
During the 2016 session of the Washington legislature my office:
●Requested legislation to improve the delivery of legal assistance services to current and former military service members by creating an Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance. The change to the law would have authorized the Attorney General’s Office to facilitate legal assistance programs and pro bono (volunteer) legal representation for military service members and veterans. Unfortunately, despite broad bipartisan support, the bill did not pass this year. I plan to bring this idea back for future consideration by the legislature.
●Supported a successful change to the law that will make it easier for members of the National Guard to realize their employment rights under state law. State law already made it illegal for an employer to take adverse employment action against someone because of their military service and charged the Attorney General’s Office with enforcing those rights. The changes to the law will make it easier for my office to work with the state’s Military Department through direct referrals; this will help expedite enforcement of cases that can’t be easily resolved.
● Supported a bill that did not ultimately pass this year, but that would have enabled a military service member to terminate or suspend certain service contracts, like a gym membership or subscription television, when the service member is called to active duty. Current federal law already allows for this type of contract termination in some circumstances, and the change to state law would have broadened those protections. This bill had bipartisan support and will likely be brought forth in future sessions.
Engaging with the military and veteran communities is an important part of making sure the Attorney General’s Office understands and is responsive to their needs. Military Saves Week is an annual event focused on financial readiness for service members and their families. As part of this year’s effort, my office participated in events at Fairchild Air Force Base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and the U.S. Coast Guard Base in Seattle.
At these events, attorneys in my office who work on consumer protection and other military and veteran policy issues met with legal assistance attorneys and financial counselors to discuss how the Attorney General’s Office can help protect military consumers. In 2014, for example, I requested successful legislation that gave the Attorney General’s Office authority to enforce the state and federal versions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. I am continually looking for other opportunities to provide financial protections and information to the military and veterans communities.
As part of the effort to encourage policies that benefit veterans, I recently joined seven attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to restore education benefits to veterans victimized by predatory for-profit colleges, such as Corinthian Colleges, Inc. Multiple actions and investigations are currently underway to hold Corinthian and similar institutions accountable for deceptive practices.
The letter, which you can read more about here, asks the VA to exercise its existing authority to restore GI Bill benefits for affected veterans, and to take steps to ensure veterans have full and accurate information about their educational options. I joined the letter because veterans earned their benefits by serving our country and I want to ensure that they are still able to achieve their educational goals despite the fact that a for-profit school acted deceptively.