Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) recently introduced bipartisan ABA-supported legislation to enhance the availability of legal services to homeless veterans.
S. 1072 is similar to H.R. 1993, which was introduced in April by Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio). Both bills would allow the secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to partner with public and private entities to provide legal services to veterans who are homeless and those who are at risk of homelessness. Under current law, the VA is only authorized to permit grantees under the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program and the Grant Per Diem program to use funds for legal services even though legal assistance continues to be among the most pressing needs for the nation’s veterans.
The legislation calls for the VA secretary to consult with veterans service organizations and other appropriate groups to coordinate outreach relationships, and the secretary may require those entering into partnerships to submit periodic reports on the legal services they have provided. Partnerships under the bill would be required to be equitably established across the United States to include rural communities and tribal lands.
“Veteran homelessness is a heartbreaking issue,” Burr said. He noted that “we are making progress in combating veterans’ homelessness as the number of homeless veterans decreased to around 40,000 over the past two years, but he said “that is still far too many, and I will continue to address this problem until the number is zero.”
ABA President Linda A. Klein voiced the ABA’s support for the goals of the legislation. “Allowing increased private-public partnerships with the VA will improve these veterans’ access to legal help and provide desperately needed progress toward ending the crisis of veteran homelessness in this country,” she said. Klein has designated legal services for veterans as a priority during her ABA presidency.