VA Project Helps Vulnerable Veterans, and Showcases the Power of Medical-legal Partnerships

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Last October, LegalHealth established onsite legal clinics at two Veteran Administration hospitals in New York City, thanks to a generous grant from the Robin Hood Foundation, which has been helping New York veterans living in poverty for over 20 years. LegalHealth applied the proven medical-legal partnership model to the project in VA hospitals, coordinating with medical staff to identify and serve veterans with pressing legal needs, mostly eviction prevention, public benefits denials, and debt collection. All of these clients are referred to these legal clinics by healthcare providers in the outpatient psychiatry and PTSD clinics at these hospitals.

The clients LegalHealth has served through the VA project may never have made it to a legal clinic. Like too many sick and disabled veterans, they would have faced their legal battles on their own – and likely would not have won. Single poor veterans, female veterans, poor African-American veterans and veterans aged 18-30 are all more than twice as likely to become homeless than their non-veteran counterparts. The correlation between mental health issues and homelessness is well-established. Mental health and physical health problems, as well as the fact that many veterans postponed or sacrificed higher education in order to pursue service, largely accounts for veterans’ comparatively high unemployment rates and corresponding financial problems.

Thankfully, LegalHealth, in partnership with VA hospitals in Manhattan and the Bronx, turned these numbers around for the patients they served. A year later, the results have been has extraordinary. The demand for services has been staggering: in one year the project has handled 884 legal matters for 572 veterans. This is more than twice the number of matters an attorney typically handles in other settings.

LegalHealth’s success validates yet again that the medical-legal partnership model works. Having a lawyer onsite where patients already receive their healthcare makes it much easier for them to get the legal services they need, and it helps lawyers coordinate care with healthcare providers. By untangling thorny regulatory and legal matters, the model not only provides patients with economic stability, it alleviates stress and anxiety, leading to improved physical and mental health.

To learn more about this work, read about LegalHealth Attorney Kevin Kenneally’s experience serving this population in the NYSBA’s Pro Bono Newsletter and on the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership’s Blog.  NYLAG’s President Yisroel Schulman wrote a blog post on this project and William F. Russo, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wrote about the need for these services and their effectiveness on the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership’s blog.