Nearly 50,000 US military veterans are sleeping on the streets every single night. According to a new study from the Department of Veterans Affairs, at least five out of the top 10 problems leading to homelessness among veterans cannot be solved without legal help.
The study surveyed more than 6,000 homeless veterans and service providers, asking them what services veterans need to become stably housed. The survey found that many veterans are able to secure food, medical services and substance-abuse treatment. But for problems that require legal assistance such as fighting evictions, upgrading military discharge status or restoring a driver’s license, many veterans are not receiving the help they need. Legal assistance is often critical to ensure that veterans are able to keep a roof over their heads.
Securing benefits and services can involve a byzantine maze of procedures that many cannot navigate on their own. Even something that sounds simple, such as restoring a driver’s license that expired during service — essential for applying for much-needed resources that can keep veterans off the streets — may require the help of a lawyer, particularly if the veteran has other unresolved legal issues.
Given these realities, legal help is as much a necessity as housing and health care. Civil legal aid — legal representation in civil cases for people who can’t afford a private attorney — has proven effective in keeping veterans in their homes. Pine Tree Legal Assistance is just one group that provides legal assistance to veterans free of charge. They have helped veterans not only avoid eviction but helped them obtain assistance paying their rent until they are able to get their financial head above water.