Justice for Military Families (JMF) is the pro bono legal clinic operated by the Military Spouse JD Network’s Foundation (MSJDNF.) A team of dedicated volunteer MSJDN attorneys and members make the program a success, which to date has provided assistance for hundreds of Gold Star, or surviving military family members, from spouses to parents to children of our fallen heroes. JMF through the work of MSJDNF places cases with qualified attorneys nationwide to provide legal assistance to Gold Star family members after their times of loss. A team of intake volunteers from MSJDN work 24/7/365 to assist with placing cases provided mainly from The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) based out of Arlington, Virginia, but also will work to place cases of Gold Star family members who reach out to MSJDN for help. JMF has also recently partnered with the American Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network to provide support for caregivers of veterans as well as Gold Star spouses and family members. In addition to working with these organizations, JMF takes case placements from American Tax and Financial Planners through their military survivor advocate program. JMF connects Gold Star Family members with legal assistance with a range of issues spanning from estate planning assistance to bankruptcy defense and avoiding foreclosure. The JMF intake team works to place every single case on behalf of survivors. MSDJNF’s JMF program is also unique in that it is the only pro bono legal clinic that does not have a maximum income requirement. The income of the Gold Star family member is not taken into account when JMF places cases. There are also no maximum rank or asset restrictions. JMF legal assistance is open to all Gold Star family members.
“I wish I had known about the program in 2017. Regardless of if you are active duty or a surviving family member, after a service member’s death it can be very complicated. You may need help to apply for benefits or have a private autopsy not with the county. A lot of times you are not working or you do not have the funds to do it,” says Cella Logan, Gold Star spouse and surviving wife of Cpl. Daniel J. Logan, USMC. Logan says programs like JMF make it a little easier as spouses deal with grief and other aspects of a service member’s passing. Logan began working with military spouses seeking legal assistance while working with the State of Florida and has referred many families to seek assistance with JMF. “I have never personally used it, but I wish I had when my husband passed away and since have been able to refer spouses to your organization,” stated Logan. Logan also serves as a peer mentor for TAPS.
JMF and similar legal aid programs impact the mental health of our nation’s Gold Star family members as well as provide necessary legal assistance. “There is such a high rate of survivors of suicide loss. It is extremely helpful regardless of what you are grieving from-it is all traumatic. For instance, when you are living alongside from a suicide loss, you are going to need someone to advocate or help you legally with the complicated stuff that comes after the death of a service member or veteran. Giving that one less stress of helping a military survivor, it gives them that space to grieve. When a sudden loss happens to military families it’s truly a gift when an organization or the community come together to help in any way they can,” Logan states. Logan says she wants to give back because so many people have helped her. When Logan was asked if there was one thing she wanted fellow Gold Star family members to know about being able to reach out to JMF for pro bono legal assistance, Logan replied “It is important that this organization understands military culture. You can contact JMF for help and they will know exactly what you are talking about.”
As we remember and honor our nation’s fallen this Memorial Day, please remember to keep their families in your thoughts and know that JMF is there for all survivors.
MSJDN Pro Bono Director Megan Kelley is an alumna of the University of Georgia and Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is licensed to practice in both Florida and Georgia. She is currently an attorney with the federal government and is an avid animal rescuer, having bullmastiffs of her own. This article was written by Megan with special thanks to Cella Logan.