May 15, 2018

Issue Resources: Access to Justice for Homeless Veterans


Legal Issues Can Become Total Barriers for Veterans

The legal community owes more than gratitude to military veterans. The rule of law, itself, relies on the service and sacrifice of military families to safeguard our security and way of life. Ironically, military service and injuries can undermine a person’s ability to address legal issues when they arise, and if allowed to persist, these legal problems can become total barriers to critically-needed help. Lawyers consequently have a unique and vital role in supporting those who have worn the nation’s cloth.

Many federal and state government programs operate to help veterans make successful transitions to civilian life and to provide lifelong care for service-connected wounds. Most veterans make these transitions, becoming natural leaders in their communities, business, and government. For too many, however, relatively simple setbacks can begin cycles of unemployment, declining health, lower quality of life, poverty, and homelessness. Unresolved legal matters, such as eviction/foreclosure, child support issues, securing a driver’s license, or addressing outstanding warrants and fines accumulated while living on the streets, have proven to perpetuate veteran homelessness. Without legal assistance, veterans facing these types of issues will have difficulty becoming housed, employed, or receive services and treatment.

Statistics and Data:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Roughly 45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.

Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.

America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

According to the VA’s Community Homelessness Assessment Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG) survey, four unmet needs of homeless veterans require legal assistance (replacing a lost driver’s license, outstanding warrants and fines, child support arrearages,  and foreclosure/evictions). For women veterans, assistance is also required with discharge status upgrade requests, and for men, the establishment of guardianships. Yet further matters, such as credit counseling and expungements, would also benefit from a lawyer’s assistance.


One Pager

HR 1993, The Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act

2016 Department of Veterans Affairs “CHALENG” survey, identifying homeless veterans’ unmet needs

114th Congress, HR6046, the Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act (115th Congress legislation Coming Soon)

ABA Letter supporting the introduction of the Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act

U.S. Congressional Research Service Report on Homeless Veterans

ABA Page on the ways lawyers and the bar contribute to veterans legal needs

ABA President Veterans Legal Services Initiative