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Soldier, Get a Lawyer!

Ursula Levelt Apr 29, 2006

4-29-06After the Iraqi people, it is the men and women of the U.S. military that are bearing the brunt of the war. They deserve our support, but more than that, they need to know their rights, because it is possible to get out, although it is not easy.

If you signed up through the Delayed Enlistment Program, which means that you have not yet reported for active duty, you have the right to change your mind. Just send a request to separate and they cannot make you serve anymore.

Once you have reported for active duty, it is still possible to obtain a discharge within the first 180 days if you and your commanding officer both agree that you cannot or will not adjust to military life.

After 180 days, there must be adequate grounds for a discharge, such as hardship for your family, physical or mental health reasons, homosexual conduct or conscientious objection.

Many people only realize that they are opposed to participation in war after joining the military. The military defines conscientious objection as a “firm, fixed and sincere objection to war in any form or the bearing of arms” because of deeply held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.

To meet the military’s standard you must be able to answer questions like: How did you come to feel this way about war? What has influenced you? Have you seen things in your military experience that cause you to question your role in the military? You also need letters of support from your community about your sincerity and the struggles of conscience you have been going through. If you succeed in obtaining a discharge on any of these grounds, you will keep your veterans’ benefits, including tuition assistance and a pension.

This is not the case if you simply fail to report for duty after a leave, in other words, go AWOL. In fact, you may be charged with a punishable offense and have to face a court martial. Once you are AWOL, it is very important to obtain assistance to try to negotiate a deal that lets you separate “in lieu of court martial.” There is help out there. Make sure you come and get it.

This column provides general information, NOT specific legal advice. Each case is different. For more information: GI Rights Hotline: 1-800-FYI- 95GI or 1-800-394-9544, www.girights.org; Center on Conscience and War: 1-202-483-2220, www.centeronconscience.org. Also visit the Military Law Task Force page at the National Lawyers’ Guild website – www.nlg.org/mltf.