Pro Bono Program Serving Special Operations Service Members – Operation Healing Forces

Pro Bono Program Serving Special Operations Service Members

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The below article is reprinted with permission of the Virginia State Bar.

Over the past two decades, no military community has borne a greater burden fighting our nation’s battles than Special Operations Forces (SOF). Operating in over 76 countries on any given day, SOF are tasked with carrying out the military’s most secretive, specialized, and dangerous missions. In recent years, as conventional forces have withdrawn from former areas of operation like Iraq and Afghanistan, SOF have been relied upon even more heavily. Operation Healing Forces (OHF) is a nonprofit organization whose core mission is to support active duty and recently separated SOF service members, including wounded, ill, and injured SOF individuals and their families. OHF aids these service members and helps guide them on their journey towards mental, physical, and emotional healing. OHF’s resources focus on helping SOF members to return to the fight, rekindle relationships, and/or successfully transition into civilian life.

Virginia has one of the largest SOF populations of any state in the country, and it is home to approximately 10,000 active duty and veteran SOF members. Since its inception in 2011, OHF has fulfilled its mission to support SOF members through a variety of services. Initially OHF’s founder, and Richmond native, Gary Markel, established the nonprofit to provide SOF service members, veterans, and their spouses with one retreat per year aboard a luxury yacht. This was known as Operation Cruise. Since 2011, the volume and scope of assistance provided by OHF has grown exponentially. The once-modest organization now offers more than 50 couples’ retreats per year in nearly two dozen locations across the United States and the Caribbean. These retreats focus on creating a space where SOF members and their spouses can rekindle bonds and repair relationships that have been strained from decades at war.

In addition to these retreats, OHF’s Special Operations Additional Resources (SOAR) Program continues to build the trust of the community with an abundance of programs and resources. The SOAR Program provides immediate, direct crisis support to Special Operators and their families. This immediate needs program covers travel and expenses related to medical emergencies, medical and adaptive equipment not covered by government means, family travel, relief or respite care for full-time caregivers, one-time financial assistance related to transition or employment opportunities, and other as needed crisis support for families, including emergency financial support. OHF also offers support with financial planning, Veterans Affairs disability benefits, employment resources, and a training/job placement program with Richmond-based insurance company Markel Corporation.

Assistance with legal matters was a previously unserved area. In partnership with the Carrico Center for Pro Bono & Public Service (a volunteer corps of Virginia lawyers and student volunteers from the University of Richmond School of Law), OHF developed a pro bono legal program to assist current and former SOF members and their spouses. The goal is to help these veterans and their families receive legal assistance with issues that have been exacerbated from the demands of military life. To properly serve this special group of veterans who have sacrificed so much in the service of our nation, it is important to understand the hardships faced by SOF members and their families.

SOF operates under a shroud of secrecy to protect national security and international interests. They typically deploy multiple times per year, to highrisk remote areas, and often on very short notice. In addition to the rigorous operational tempo of SOF units, when not deployed these service members train constantly and are frequently relocated across the United States and around the world. These challenges can compound over time and put SOF members and their families in tough situations that result in a variety of legal issues. Effectively dealing with legal matters requires trusted, knowledgeable counsel that can help navigate uncertain waters. Because SOF members relocate so frequently, never really putting down roots, they often lack the network and relationships to find competent legal counsel. OHF intends to help bridge this gap by connecting its members with volunteer attorneys interested in serving those who have served.

The practice areas of focus for the program are real estate/landlord tenant, general business, employee and independent contractor, income tax controversy, estate planning, probate administration, guardianships, immigration, and general litigation. OHF and the Carrico Center will work together to ensure these service members are connected with knowledgeable counsel based on their specific needs. We ask and encourage you to follow the links below to learn more about the program and join the corps of volunteers.

Operation Healing Forces: Serving Those Who Have Served Our Country – Law Over Lunch CLE: https://perma.cc/F8BL-S456

Volunteer Signup: https://bit.ly/3vcvtCa