WNPR

Unique Legal Medical Partnership in Connecticut Helps Homeless Veterans

Nov 16, 2015

The program has helped almost 1,500 veterans access benefits, and deal with problems like eviction and employment challenges.

There's a bill in Congress that could expand a unique legal-medical partnership in Connecticut to the rest of the country. 

In 2009, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center began working inside the federal VA's Errera Community Care Center in West Haven. The collaboration made sense given Errera's mission to connect veterans who have experienced homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse with all kinds of services, including free legal assistance.

Margaret Middleton, Executive Director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, said the partnership -- which integrates legal help into VA care -- was the first of its kind in the country. Her staff has helped almost 1,500 veterans access benefits, and deal with problems like eviction and employment challenges.

Middleton said the model should expand nationwide.

"You know, problems in people's lives don't happen in isolation," Middleton said. "You don't just have a mental health issue. You don't just have a legal issue. These things often come about at the same time, and are inter-related. So the fact you are getting divorced is causing you stress, which is sending you into more symptomatic mental health condition, which may cause you to drink -- and so touching on all of these things at once, and having a real holistic team approach to helping folks, is really essential."

There's a bill pending before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that would authorize the federal VA to fund partnerships that provide legal services to homeless veterans.

Connecticut's U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal is backing the measure, which has attracted bipartisan support.