March 31, 2020

Allow the VA to Provide Legal Aid for Homeless Vets

Ensure Homeless Veterans Have More Access to their Benefits

The VA, national Veterans Services Organizations (VSOs), and the legal community are united behind the Legal Services for Homeless Veterans Act, H.R.

The VA, national Veterans Services Organizations (VSOs), and the legal community are united behind the Legal Services for Homeless Veterans Act, H.R.

There are many reasons that a veteran may become homeless, and it takes a range of people and services to help get those men and women back on their feet, but as we wrote in June, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lacks the ability to fund legal aid in any way. The ABA is fighting to help change that and we need YOU to join us.

The VA has documented that common legal problems facing homeless veterans often make them ineligible for housing or other programs and services they need, but the VA lacks the statutory authority to fund legal assistance that might help. And that’s important, because while the number of homeless veterans continues to go down slightly, the number of those living without shelter is slightly higher now than it was in 2016. We should do all we can to remove legal barriers for veterans so they can access more of their benefits and the services they need. Two leading bills in Congress would go a long way towards doing just that.

The VA, national Veterans Services Organizations (VSOs), and the legal community are united behind the Legal Services for Homeless Veterans Act, H.R. 3749, and the Homeless Veterans Prevention Act, S. 980 (Section 3). These bills would not increase federal spending or give any extra funding to the VA. They would however give the VA Secretary the authority to use funds it already has to partner with VSOs and other organizations for the sole purpose of providing legal services to homeless veterans. As innocuous as that sounds, this legislation has been introduced each Congress since 2013, and passed the Senate twice, but anonymous opposition has prevented consideration of this bipartisan legislation in the House. Until now.

People came together last year to lift and surround the House legislation with vocal support so that opposition could not remain anonymous. It paid off: in February 2020, H.R. 3749 sailed through the House of Representatives by voice vote! The prospects for the Senate bill look positive, but progress has stalled over an unrelated provision in S. 980. Our concern is that the delay or a subsequent closed-door conference committee could leave the legislation vulnerable, again.

In the time of coronavirus

The spread of the coronavirus throughout the United States has made matters worse for veterans. Veterans already living on the streets or in crowded shelters are at increased risk of contracting the virus and failing to get the medical help necessary to recover or prevent its spread. Like other Americans, many veterans are also facing layoffs, evictions or other economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting rise in homelessness and demand for available medical resources could mean less availability for services to veterans, including mental health services or other government programs on which homeless veterans rely. 

How you can help this year!

Advocacy During ABA Day Digital
Wednesday, April 22nd | 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm EST

On April 22nd, from 12:30 to 2:00 pm EST, join the ABA and Governmental Affairs Office to urge Congress to give the VA authority to fund legal assistance for veterans when they think it will help break down barriers that prevent them from getting the services they need and earned. 

While we had to cancel the in-person portion of ABA Day, we are still poised to advocate on important issues like veterans’ legal services during our first fully online annual advocacy event.

Just log on to the #ABADay Digital website and see links to take action quickly using preformatted emails and social media messages to support giving VA the authority it needs and wants to fund legal assistance to veterans and have an immediate impact on policymakers making important decisions on Capitol Hill. You can also personalize these messages to have even more of an impact.

While there, you can also explore advocacy campaigns on our three other #ABADay Digital issues – funding for the Legal Services Corporation, preserving Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and expanding broadband access for rural America – and send messages to help effect change in those areas too.

More opportunities to engage

In addition to sending messages to Congress, ABA Day participants with more time are encouraged to join live panels, TEDtalk-like presentations, Twitter takeovers, Tweetstorms, and more, punctuated with specific advocacy actions throughout the day.

For more details on our discussions on legal assistance for veterans on April 22 and other #ABADay Digital activities on April 22 and 23, click here.