The Unmet Legal Needs of Veterans

Earlier this month, a report was released by Project CHALENG outlining the responses given by Veterans when asked to rank both their met and unmet needs. While many may believe the duty of caring for Veterans falls entirely on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the hospitals they manage, and that any problems Veterans have with their care stems from the VA, the CHALENG report shows such a view overlooks some of the biggest needs of our Veteran population. Medical needs, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, were (perhaps surprisingly) listed as the top needs already being met. What is most telling are the listed unmet needs. Many of the top unmet needs relate directly to legal assistance – issues relating to child support, reinstating driver’s licenses, assistance to prevent foreclosure and eviction, and help with outstanding warrants and fines.

With these unmet needs at the forefront of your mind, let us add some local numbers. According to the 2015 Point In Time Homeless Count, 5354 South Carolinians were homeless on a given night in January 2015. 681 of those individuals were Veterans. A few years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama put into motion the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, to which Columbia Mayor Benjamin (as well as many other SC mayors) is a signatory. This was a step in the right direction, but as the recent data demonstrates, assistance with legal issues is desperately needed. Homelessness is often not resolved simply by putting a roof over someone’s head. There many interrelated issues that make it difficult to obtain or retain housing – lack of employment, lack of community supports, a myriad of legal issues, the list goes on. This is not a time to point fingers or place blame. It is a time to rethink what we know and use this knowledge to create a better way to care for all returning Veterans. SC Appleseed’s Lawyers 4 Vets Pro Bono Legal Clinic is trying to meet some of those unmet legal needs, but as a state and as a legal community, we can do more. These veterans gave up a part of their lives to protect us, now it is our time to step up.

If you are a low-income Veteran in need of assistance with child support, expungements or pardons, or to have a will drafted, call Lawyers 4 Vets at 877-289-6000.

If you are an attorney interested in learning more about volunteering with the Lawyers 4 Vets Clinic, contact Bridget Brown at [email protected]