The ABA signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) Nov. 13 with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, and the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium that seeks to improve veterans’ access to pro bono legal assistance, including expansion of VA-hosted free legal clinics and medical legal partnerships.
The parties signing the MOA agree to “work in a mutually beneficial manner to advance and improve the quality of life for our Nation’s veterans.”
The VA’s annual Community Homelessness Assessment – Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG) survey has revealed that the lack of access to legal representation contributes significantly to a veteran’s risk of becoming and remaining homeless and that at least five out of the top 10 unmet needs of homeless veterans each year are legal needs.
These include eviction/foreclosure, child support, outstanding warrants/fine, and discharge upgrades. These legal problems often contribute to veterans’ risk of homelessness and affect access to VA health care, benefits, and services.
The VA currently offers 165 free legal clinics in its VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics, and vet centers across the country through partnerships with local bar associations, legal aid organizations, and law school clinics.
“By signing this agreement, we are documenting a shared commitment to better facilitate veterans’ access to legal services,” VA Secretary David J. Shulkin said.
The ABA − which is committed to ensuring the best possible legal outcomes for veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors − supports pro bono and other free legal services, public and professional education, innovation in assessing and delivering legal support, and advocacy to remove legal barriers to due benefits, services and treatment.
ABA Associate Executive Director Holly Cook, who signed the MoA on behalf of ABA Executive Director Jack Rives, highlighted the ABA Veterans Legal Services Initiative, which includes the ABA Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network (VCAN).
VCAN engages lawyers to help veterans assemble their medical and documentary evidence to support their disability claims.
In addition, VetLex, a new web-based project launched earlier this year by the ABA and Jones Day law firm, matches attorneys who can provide pro bono legal assistance with veterans who need their help. The project will be rolled out nationwide during 2018.