Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), with cosponsors Reps. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) and Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), reintroduced legislation April 7 that would allow the secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to partner with public and private entities to provide legal services to homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness.
“Our nation made a lifelong promise to our veterans; and clearly, we can and must do more,” Beatty said. “Providing expanded access to free, high-quality legal services – whether that be assisting in restoring their driver’s license, preventing eviction or the loss of their home, or resolving child support issues, to name a few – is one way we can do so immediately. This bill reaffirms the promise to serve those who answered the call to serve in the Armed Forces,” she explained.
Current law does not provide the VA with statutory authority to directly fund any legal services, but it does permit grantees under the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program and the Grant Per Diem program to use funds for legal services. Legal assistance continues to be among the most pressing needs for the nation’s veterans, however.
The legislation calls for consultation by the VA secretary with veterans service organizations and other appropriate organizations to coordinate outreach relationships, and the secretary may require those entering into partnerships to submit periodic reports on the legal services they have provided. The legislation requires that the VA ensure that the partnerships are equitably established across the United States to include rural communities and tribal lands.
ABA President Linda A. Klein voiced the ABA’s support for the bill. “Many veterans continue to make sacrifices long after they’ve come home,” she said. “They encounter a variety of legal problems, including loss of a home or a job, wrongful denial of benefits, and credit problems. That’s where lawyers can make a difference. Allowing increased private-public partnerships with the VA will improve these veterans’ access."