Homeless Veterans Justice Initiative
The Obama Administration has pledged to end homelessness among veterans in 5 years. And with the recent creation of a new office, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ on Homelessness Among Veterans, the Administration is certainly moving in the right direction. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approached the Commission in 2009 to partner on two initiatives aimed at addressing homelessness among veterans: (1) fostering replication of Veterans Courts; and (2) removing barriers to housing and self-sufficiency by addressing child support arrears. The VA recognizes that criminal legal issues serve as barriers to housing and self-sufficiency and is looking to the Commission for assistance with developing and implementing mechanisms to address the barriers.
Programming and educational resources will be developed and technical assistance will be provided (much like the Commission’s Homeless Court Initiative which the VA credits as the model for Veterans Courts) to foster replication of Veterans Treatment Courts.
The Commission is collaborating with the VA, Health and Human Services (HHS), the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) on a pilot program aimed at addressing child support issues of homeless veterans connected to VA-funded housing, treatment, and services. The Commission is presently providing technical assistance and training to lawyers and legal organizations in the nine pilot cities serving as the lead entity in coordinating a collaborative response to the issue utilizing the best practices. Additional training resources will be developed by the , HHS, ACF, and OCSE. The Commission will work with the VA and other stakeholder agencies to replicate the model across the country. This collaborative initiative is highlighted in the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness published by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
The Commission intends to continue building momentum around veterans advocacy both in promoting pro bono opportunities (such as the Child Support initiative and other pro bono models) and expand the number and quality of Veterans Treatment Courts (which now number nearly 80 across the country from only 4 less than two years ago). Moreover, we have been invited to help expand the VTC model in rural areas and believe we will help establish the nation’s first rural VTC in the coming year.
Finally, the Commission plans to draft a toolkit on how lawyers can help veterans. While the focus will be on homeless veterans, the Commission intends to reach out to others (other entities as well as outside organizations) to help draft sections related to helping housed veterans and returning veterans as well. The toolkit will address issues such as: Veterans Courts, Homeless Courts, Stand Down events, child support, housing, benefits, discharge upgrades, identification issues, securing official documents, credit issues, etc. Model pro bono models and community responses will be highlighted along with ways individual lawyers can get involved.