With nearly 50,000 veterans sleeping on the streets of America each night, it’s clear we are failing to serve those who have served our country. But the solution isn’t as obvious as it might seem. Veterans don’t need simply more doctors and shelter beds; new research shows that veterans need lawyers to fight on their behalf as well.
One reason so many veterans are homeless? They can’t afford lawyers. New research shows that vets are losing their homes and missing out on crucial benefits because they lack legal aid.
According to a new study from the Department of Veterans Affairs, at least five out of the top 10 problems leading to homelessness among veterans cannot be solved without legal help. The study surveyed more than 6,000 homeless veterans and service providers, asking them what services veterans need to become stably housed. The survey found that many veterans are able to secure food, medical services and substance-abuse treatment.
But for problems that require legal assistance such as fighting evictions, upgrading military discharge status or restoring a driver’s license, many veterans are not receiving the help they need.
Legal assistance is often critical to ensure that veterans find justice and get the benefits they have earned — and can keep a roof over their heads.
New Hampshire Legal Assistance is building partnerships with community health centers to reach low-income New Hampshire residents including veterans who have civil legal needs affecting their health.
The New Hampshire Bar News recently profiled the program, and spoke to Helen Curry, 68, the partner of a disabled veteran, about how legal aid helped them avoid homelessness when their apartment building was sold to a new developer.
Curry “called in tears; she thought they had to be out on Friday,” NHLA paralegal Candace Cappio Gebhart recalls.
Curry suffers from anxiety, which can lead to other health issues. “Not knowing what was going to happen, whether we had any options, that was making it so much worse,” Curry said.
Cappio Gebhart helped the couple delay the eviction and put them in contact with organizations that helped them find better housing.
“The most important piece was knowing that we weren’t alone in this whole ordeal,” Helen said.
Legal services can also help all patients be healthier and more productive – a benefit to the entire community, as in the case of one single working mom with two children who suffer from asthma.
Exposure to the cold triggered their symptoms, which forced them to miss school, and Mom to miss work and risk losing her job. So when the heating system in their apartment broke and the landlord failed to fix it, this civil legal problem could have snowballed into a major crisis.
When Mom was referred to the new medical-legal partnership, Cappio Gebhart showed her how to file a petition in court, and the landlord was ordered to fix the heat. The kids aren’t missing school, which means Mom isn’t missing work, and the family income is stable now.
“Knowledge is power,” she says. “We’re trying to empower these folks.”