By: Jack Tsai et al. Published by: Psychiatric Services. Published on: December 12, 2016
Veterans compose a group with unique social and psychological determinants of health, including widespread disability, homelessness, and mental illness. Medical legal partnerships (MLPs) often assist in alleviating these issues by screening for risks that can be addressed more effectively through legal services. The article reviews previous literature that supports MLPs, mentioning a host of unmet legal needs among veteran populations related to eviction and foreclosure, child support, drivers’ license problems, and warrants/fines.
In this study, the authors describe partnership models in two states, highlighting the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) and LegalHealth, a division of the New York Legal Assistance Group. Results indicate that between those operations, MLPs served 791 veterans regarding about 1200 issues over a two-year period. The findings also reveal a significant prevalence of psychiatric issues such as PTSD (40%), substance use disorder (16%), schizophrenia-spectrum and bipolar disorder (15%), and major depression (8%). While some of New York’s information was unavailable, 57% of Connecticut’s clients reported a lifetime history of homelessness that could be better addressed through civil legal aid.
Incorporating data from both states, the top five legal issues raised by veterans were related to VA benefits, housing, family, consumer, and public benefits. In order to overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare, and income, the authors emphasize a dire need for MLPs that are equipped to provide comprehensive care to vulnerable veterans. As previous studies have shown, these efforts have the potential to produce better health care outcomes and reduce medical costs. The conversation concludes with instructions on how to expand MLP application with VHA to more effectively serve those who have served our country.