DVIDS – News – Fort Hamilton Legal Support Team Wins Army-Level Award

FORT HAMILTON, NY – The ability of the Fort Hamilton Facility Legal Office to help eligible clients manage their personal legal matters in a timely and professional manner, promoting readiness, high morale, discipline and a quality force , earned them recognition at the army level. .

The Judge Advocate General Corps of the United States Army Joint Chiefs of Staff announced in May that the Fort Hamilton ILO had received an Army Chief of Staff Award for Excellence in legal assistance (active army – small offices category).

The small three-person legal team provides legal advice on matters ranging from family and domestic law, wills and estate planning, income tax, military administrative actions, consumer law, ethics, criminal justice, legal policies, memorandums of understanding and labor law. .

“This team serves as the face of the Installation Legal Office for not only the Fort Hamilton community, but for the entire military community in the tri-state area,” said Rod O’Connor, Fort Hamilton supervising attorney. . “This award honors commands that have committed their legal resources to help service members and their families resolve their personal legal issues. Being recognized for what we do is directly attributable to the exceptional efforts of the entire team. This is a big problem in our world.

In fiscal year 2021, the Legal Support Office did not have a paralegal for the first four months, but staff still handled 1,218 appointments and provided 3,390 services to the clientele – a total estimate of over $87.8,000 in legal services.

To meet the challenges associated with supporting the diverse needs of the community, the legal office employs members with a wide variety of skills and backgrounds, their strength lies in their dexterity.

Alma Whitelaw, who has 30 years of legal career experience, is both a Fort Hamilton legal aid and claims attorney.

“Unlike most places that have a dedicated legal assistance attorney, Alma’s job is both legal assistance and claims,” ​​O’Connor said. “This requires Alma to master two distinct aspects of the law. Winning the legal aid award for a part-time legal aid attorney exemplifies Alma’s strong legal acumen. »

In addition to working overtime to ensure his clients receive all necessary services, Whitelaw constantly educates himself on updates to the law while simultaneously taking advantage of all of the American Bar Association’s continuing education. Whitelaw’s days range from assisting military personnel with their legal matters, providing support and advice to other local attorneys, and training Army Reserve judge advocates. If she didn’t seem busy enough, Whitelaw was also enrolled in a college course and served as a juror for four months.

Fort Hamilton paralegal Patty Ingao went above and beyond, passed the New York notary exam and became a state-certified notary to help fill the void.

“The former paralegal has resigned, leaving duties like notaries and scheduling to fall completely on Alma,” O’Connor said. “Although Patty is a Claims Examiner, unbeknownst to the rest of the ILO team, she has studied and passed the New York State Notary Examination. This allowed Patty to support the legal aid mission by providing notaries to the Fort Hamilton community, freeing Alma to focus on legal aid.

According to O’Connor, Patty’s decision to voluntarily assist with the notary’s duties served as a force multiplier for the ILO’s legal assistance mission and was crucial in winning the award.

Additionally, staff continued to provide quality legal services even as the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges throughout the year.

“Our office continued to provide full service to our soldiers and their family members by pursuing enhanced disinfection patterns, creating more time between appointments to ensure little to no crowding of waiting areas. and implementing comprehensive protective measures against COVID-19,” O’Connor said. . “COVID-19 has taught us that communication with our retirees is essential. Many of our retirees don’t use social media and have technology challenges. We continue to find ways to provide updates, messages and events to our retirees. »

Last, but not least, the staff worked hard to maintain the Fort Hamilton Tax Center, which provided free tax preparation services to their clients and eased the stress of tax season. Fort Hamilton is one of the few facilities that continues to offer a tax assistance program. Additionally, unlike other military tax centers that borrow military labor to train as tax preparers, Fort Hamilton’s volunteers were veterans, military spouses, and college graduates. local colleges interested in helping the military community.

“The recruitment and retention of excellent volunteers has become the key to the continued existence of providing this very valuable service,” said O’Connor.

Last year, tax center volunteers prepared 203 federal returns and 191 state returns for eligible clients who saved $161,000 in tax preparer fees and received $714,000 in federal and tax refunds. ‘State.

Criteria assessed for the award included office staffing and training plan; an assessment of the quality of legal assistance provided to clients and efforts to better meet client needs.

The Fort Hamilton Legal Aid Office is located in Building 117 on John Warren Avenue. Persons eligible to receive legal assistance include all serving members of all branches of service and their family members, retirees and their family members, and certain other persons under federal law.

Date taken: 08.12.2022
Date posted: 08.12.2022 16:30
Story ID: 427185

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