Northport VA Medical Center and NYLAG Announce Long Island’s First Medical-Legal Partnership for Veterans

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The Northport VA Medical Center and LegalHealth, a division of NYLAG, have launched a new initiative to improve the health and well-being of veterans by addressing pressing legal needs that endanger their health or impede their treatment and recovery. The partnership was made possible through funding from the Long Island Community Foundation (LICF) and DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Charitable Service Trust.

NYLAG’s LegalHealth division is the country’s largest medical-legal partnership, with clinics in 25 hospitals in New York City and Long Island, including two New York City VA hospitals. Medical-legal partnerships integrate the expertise of health care and legal professionals in a health care setting to address patients’ health-harming legal needs.

The Northport VA Medical Center is now the first facility on Long Island to introduce a medical-legal partnership for veterans. The program will build on the Medical Center’s successful Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Rights Clinic, which brings Touro Law Center students onsite to assist patients in a range of legal matters.

“Our service men and women have earned quality health care and should not have to navigate confusing bureaucracy to access those services,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. “The Northport VA Medical Center and the New York Legal Assistance Group have forged an important partnership, bringing health and legal professionals together to help veterans receive the treatment they need. This model should become the norm at VA hospitals across the country. Our nation’s veterans have done enough – they shouldn’t have to fight their own legal battles too.”

Veterans often face enormous obstacles to achieving economic self-sufficiency and improving the quality of their lives. Those with mental or physical health problems are even more likely to be homeless or unemployed.

“Many of our heroes suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, and having to do battle on the home front to get the benefits and services to which they are entitled,” said David Okorn, LICF’s executive director. “Bringing NYLAG’s medical-legal partnership model to the Northport VA will make it possible to serve a vast pool of Long Island veterans, easing their mental health issues.”

“This is exactly the kind of program that the Trust is designed to support,” said Chairman of the Charitable Service Trust, Richard Marbes. “NYLAG services fulfill an incredibly important function for veterans, and I know that the program will provide numerous veterans with the opportunity to heal as they build successful civilian lives.”

When legal issues are addressed, the results are impressive. Preliminary data show that for every $100 spent providing legal help, veterans received over $200 in increased income and decreased debt.

“Too many vets face economic hardship in our country, but in particular those with chronic health conditions. By working with Northport VA Medical professionals who understand the needs of their patients, in a setting that is familiar and convenient, we can provide legal services that will improve their lives, and the lives of their families,” said Randye Retkin, Director of NYLAG’s LegalHealth division. “We are immensely grateful to the Long Island Community Foundation and DAV Charitable Service Trust. Their commitment makes it possible for us to help and heal veterans who have sacrificed so much for their country.”

NYLAG staff has already begun to train Northport VA Medical’s healthcare professionals, social workers and case managers to help them recognize the legal obstacles their patients face. Onsite legal clinics will be held several days a week at the Center, where an attorney will help veterans to address a range of legal challenges including housing, Social Security Disability and other benefit issues, family law issues and advance planning. The clinics will serve newly returning veterans as well as veterans from earlier conflicts.