While the VA has taken great steps to meet the traditional health care needs of veterans, gaps remain in the delivery and coordination of social services that impact health. In fact, five of the top ten needs reported by homeless veterans require legal assistance to solve. This new issue brief from the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership examines veterans’ legal needs and how they affect health and housing, and discusses the role integrated civil legal services can play in the health and health care of veterans.
By Rishi Manchanda, Shannon Murphy, Ellen Lawton, and Margaret Middleton
Within the veteran population, at the intersection of mental health and poverty, we find thousands of individuals with complex needs. While these needs may manifest in different ways, many of them require help from a lawyer. Civil legal problems — from threatened evictions to other-than-honorable discharges from the military — are often the greatest obstacles to a veteran’s health, housing, stability, and productivity. Indeed, five of the top ten needs reported by homeless veterans in an annual survey by the VA require legal assistance. Yet while civil legal needs among veterans are prevalent, they often remain invisible.
This issue brief discusses how medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) are poised to help address the unmet legal needs of veterans by integrating civil legal aid services into existing health care services for veterans. MLPs break down the silos between legal stakeholders and the health care team to address veteran access to: healthy housing, VA benefits, an honorable military discharge status, and employment. While many veterans still face invisible battlefields in their civilian lives and lack support for their complex legal needs, MLPs for veterans are growing in number and expertise — showing great promise for both confronting and preventing veterans’ legal barriers to health and well-being.