Counselors will offer free, confidential legal information to service members, veterans, potential recruits and their families
Nationwide network assists those who seek to get out of the military
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline will officially begin operations on Monday, September 24, undertaking its mission of providing free, confidential, and accurate information on US military regulations and practices to servicemembers, veterans, potential recruits, and their families.
The Hotline can be reached at (405) 231-1138. Live counselors will answer on Mondays from 10 AM to 5 PM. On other days messages will be returned within 24 hours. More live hours will be added gradually in the future.
The Hotline is managed by the Oklahoma Center for Conscience, an organization supported by Joy Mennonite Church, Veterans for Peace – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Catholic Peace Fellowship and the Oklahoma City Religious Society of Friends. Operating funds for OCC and the Hotline come from private donations from the local community.
The volunteers who will staff the hotline took an intensive two-day workshop last April that covered military regulations and GI Rights counseling practice. That training was led by experienced counselors and attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force. The workshop was funded in part by a grant from the A. J. Muste Memorial Foundation.
Hotline volunteers will work under the guidance of Oklahoma attorney James M. Branum, a member of NLG who specializes in military law. They will receive ongoing training updates as changes in military law may require, and will participate in national online discussions with other counselors across the country in order to stay informed about current issues that impact the work.
The goal of the Hotline is to empower servicemembers by giving them information and other resources needed to make appropriate decisions regarding their military service. The Uniform Code of Military Justice contains all the regulations regarding legal separation from service, but servicemembers usually are not made aware of these documents.
“Many of our men and women servicemembers face difficult realities: concerns stemming from injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual harassment, issues of conscience regarding military action, abuses of command and broken enlistment promises,” said Branum. “We want to support them in exerting their rights that the military gives them. Exerting their rights alone in a huge and complex system is almost impossible without support.”
Mr. Branum, has two years experience in GI Rights counseling. He is also a founder and co-chair of Oklahoma Center for Conscience.
The Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline will join a network of hotlines and counseling centers across the U. S. and in Germany that assist active duty military personnel with their options in obtaining discharges, registering as a conscientious objector, and other legal matters concerning their relationship with the military. It will begin by taking direct calls from servicemembers in or from Oklahoma, but will eventually be linked to the network to take calls from designated area codes in Oklahoma and possibly other states.
Oklahoma is in an especially important position to offer GI Rights counseling services. Ft. Sill, located in Lawton, is one of only two Personnel Control Facility (PCF) locations in the U. S., to which many AWOL soldiers must pass through when they surrender themselves. Ft. Sill is also where many of those refusing to fight, claiming Conscientious Objector status, are incarcerated during the legal process the military requires.
In addition to phone, email and in person counseling, the Hotline will provide resources on its website that a servicemember can use, in many cases, to get out of the military on their own.
“We are pleased and excited to welcome the Oklahoma hotline to the network of counseling services across the country,” said Luke Heiken, a member of the steering committee of the Military Law Task Force who was one of two trainers who conducted the April training workshop. “We are looking forward to working with them to meet the needs of those who are serving their country in uniform.”
New prospective Hotline counselors are welcome to apply for the next training, will be held in Spring of 2008. Inquiries should be directed to the Oklahoma Center for Conscience by emailing info-AT-centerforconscience-DOT-org or calling (405) 771-4743
More information about the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline can be found online at okgirightshotline.org.
This news release in MS Word format: