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In 2013, the Air Force established the Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) program as part of a larger initiative to ensure that victims of sexual assault receive care and support. Today, the SVC program is called the Victims’ Counsel Program. It has become an integral part of the military justice system. VCs are experienced JAGs who advise, advocate for, and empower victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other violent crimes by providing them with independent legal representation throughout the court-martial process. To preserve this independence, VCs do not fall under installation's chain of command, and maintain strict attorney-client privilege with their clients. They help ensure that clients’ rights under Article 6b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice are preserved at every step of the judicial process. VCs may assist clients who have made a restricted report, unrestricted report, or no report at all.
40 Barksdale Avenue W
Barksdale AFB, LA 71110
Victims of sexually-related, domestic violence, or similar offenses generally qualify for VC services when they fall into one of the following statuses:
• AF Active Duty, Reserve and ANG members
• DoD Civilian Employees if
• Perpetrator is a Service member
• When Crime was Committed
• Active Duty Dependents/Retirees if
• When Crime was Committed; and
• At time of Report
**Even if Victims do not fall into one of the above categories they may request an exception allowing them to receive VC services.**
VCs and VPs assist with many victims’ rights issues, including the following:
• Guiding Clients through Investigations
• Attend Interviews with OSI, Prosecutors, and Defense Attorneys
• Coordinate with commanders, first sergeants and the legal office
• Representation to Protect Client’s Rights during Proceedings
• Courts-Martial (Trials and Article 32 Hearings)
• Discharge Boards
• Advocacy to Civilian Prosecutors/Agencies
• While VCs cannot represent clients in civilian courts, we can help ensure that your views are heard to civilian prosecutors and investigators.
• Collateral Misconduct (under certain conditions)
• Inspector General, Equal Opportunity, Article 138, and Congressional Complaints
Article 6b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice states that victims of an offense have the following rights. VCs work to ensure that these rights are upheld on behalf of their clients.
(1) being reasonably protected from the offender;
(2) the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of identified events in the military justice process about the case;
(3) the right not to be excluded from any public hearing involving the case (with some limited exceptions);
(4) the right to be reasonably heard at certain hearings;
(5) the right to communicate with government counsel in the case;
(6) the right to receive restitution, if available;
(7) the right to legal proceedings free from unreasonable delay;
(8) the right to be informed in a timely manner of any plea agreement, separation-in-lieu-of-trial agreement, or non-prosecution agreement relating to the offense (provided some precautionary exceptions); and
(9) the right to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.
What is a Victims’ Counsel (VC)?
A VC, formerly known as a Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC), is a military attorney who specializes in representing victims of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, stalking, and similar crimes.
How is a VC different from the base legal office or area defense counsel (ADC)?
The base legal office has attorneys who work for the government of the Air Force while the area defense counsel (ADC) works for Air Force members charged or accused of crimes. In contrast, a VC works for victims including Air & Space Force members or their dependents. A VC has a separate office and different chain of command from the base legal office and ADC. The Chief of the VC Program is located in Washington, DC.
What are the VC Program objectives?
There are 4 main VC objectives: (1) provide support through independent representation; (2) build and sustain victim resiliency; (3) empower victims; and (4) increase the level of legal assistance provided to victims.
When did the VC Program begin?
It started in January 2013 as Special Victims’ Counsel, a test program in the Air Force. It was the first program in the DoD to offer victims free legal representation. Due to its success, all military branches now have their own victims’ counsel-type programs.
What is the purpose of the VC Program?
In short, the VC Program was created for three main reasons: (1) to empower victims by removing barriers to their full participation in the military justice process; (2) to provide victims zealous advocacy by protecting their rights; and (3) to provide legal advice by developing victims’ understanding of the often complex investigatory and military justice system.
Who is eligible for a VC?
Eligibility is initially determined by statute. The statute authorizes services for active duty, dependents, Guard, Reserve, and certain other individuals. There are also clients that we take on as an exception.
If the offense happened years ago, is the victim still eligible for a VC?
It depends on many factors, including the status of the victim and the status of the perpetrator. If the victim is not eligible, he or she could request a VC by exception.
Do VCs represent minors?
Yes, VCs represent children of active-duty members or Guard/Reserve on Title 10 orders.
What if a victim doesn’t know who the perpetrator is or the perpetrator was a civilian?
If the victim is active duty, it doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is known or unknown, civilian, or military. For everyone else, the status of the perpetrator being subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice is required.
How much does a VC cost?
VC services are free.
What if I meet with a VC and determine I don’t want one?
That is completely fine. The client/victim who meets with the VC has absolutely no obligation to retain the VC. So, if you or someone you know would like to learn more about VC’s services, you are welcome to set up an appointment.
What do VCs do for their clients?
VCs do many things for their clients such as: offer consultation and advice; advise them of their rights [see next question]; offer referrals for numerous types of services; attend any and all interviews with them; speak to others on the clients’ behalf including with trial counsel, area defense counsel, military judges, Office of Special Investigations (OSI), Security Forces Squadron (SFS), commanders, and others; represent the client in courts or discharge boards; assist in cases involving retaliation against victims for reporting a crime; and work through and explain the numerous legal processes, procedures, evidence, and other issues that may arise for courts-martial, discharge boards, or other legal matters. In short, VCs act as zealous advocates for their clients to try and achieve their goals and desires within the context of the law.
What are some legal rights that victims are entitled to?
These rights include:
If the offense happened off-base by a civilian, can the VC represent a victim in civilian court?
While VCs can still offer those victims confidential consultation, advice, and other services related to the offense, because they may not be licensed in the state where the offense occurred, they cannot appear in civilian court.
Is the victim’s communication to the VC protected?
Absolutely! Everything told by a victim to a VC is confidential and protected by attorney-client privilege. This means the VC cannot tell anyone what a victim says unless the victim gives permission to do so. However, there are usually a few limited exceptions where a VC could tell someone about their conversations, such as if the victim told the VC that he or she was going to commit a crime or the VC has to defend a claim made by the victim against the VC.
If a victim doesn’t want anyone else to know about the crime, can a victim still talk to a VC?
Yes, victims can speak to VCs without letting anyone else know. VCs can advise victims on legal implications on restricted and unrestricted reporting and help facilitate if he/she decides to report.
If a victim wants to leave the unit, squadron, or base, can the VC assist with this?
Yes. Depending on the victim’s status, nature of the case, and whereabouts of the offender the VC can assist with applying for a transfer of either the victim or perpetrator to another unit, squadron, or base.
How long does VC representation last?
Once the VC enters an ongoing attorney-client relationship that VC remains the counsel for the victim for all matters relating to the sex-related offense, unless released by the client or terminated for good cause, including but not limited to separation or retirement.
What is the role of the Paralegal (VP)?
The paralegal is an extension of that attorney-client team for victims. They maintain the privileged communication just as the VC does. The paralegal conducts the administrative tasks involved and manages initial requests. The paralegal is also that other point of contact when the attorney may not be available. The paralegal will likely be the first contact you have with the VC office, and they can answer questions you may have and ensure that you receive the services needed. Simply put, they handle everything behind the scenes and will be just as involved as the attorneys on a case so don’t hesitate to utilize them as well.