Veterans face a unique set of challenges navigating essential benefits and services as they transition back to their communities. Receiving legal support and guidance is a critical component to that transition and life thereafter. A study published in Health Affairs supporting this idea found that Veterans experience improved physical and mental health when they have access to legal services to assist them with civil legal issues.
Today, there are a variety of legal resources available to assist Veterans: Law School clinics, nonprofit organizations, corporate counsels, Bar associations, law firms, and individual attorneys. There are even thousands of attorneys nationwide willing to donate pro bono hours to assist the Veteran population with their legal issues. Despite these existing resources, there is still difficulty connecting Veterans to the right one.
This is why the American Bar Association in partnership with Jones Day created the first ever national Veterans’ legal services network: VetLex. VetLex is a coordinated network of pro bono attorneys and organizations committed to serving the legal needs of Veterans across the country. The network aims to recruit lawyers and organizations looking to serve our Veterans by delivering a seamless experience for them in receiving training, accreditations, and most importantly referrals to Veterans in need.
The Unite Us software supports the VetLex network by enabling coordination between different legal providers and veterans. VetLex launched initial pilots in Pittsburg, Detroit, Illinois, and Washington D.C. with plans to scale nationwide in 2019.
The VetLex network (a partnership of the ABA, Jones Day, and a host of regional partners) is focused on understanding and addressing the barriers and challenges that exist for lawyers and law firms delivering care and services to Veterans. These barriers include things such as cultural awareness, certifications and trainings, knowledge sharing, and actually connecting to Veterans seeking legal assistance.
“VetLex is intended to serve as a safety net for veterans with legal needs. Instead of an endless cycle of piecemeal referrals, we are coordinating services and resources all in one place for a holistic, person-centered approach.” said Holly Christian, Director of the Veteran Legal Services Initiative at the American Bar Association. Without VetLex, we are seeing a two pronged problem. First, there isn’t adequate screening or intake to ensure that a veteran is eligible for services that an attorney or organization provides. This can include income level, discharge status, or even accessibility due to the transient nature of being in the military. Second, there is no guarantee that the attorney or organization has the requisite cultural competency or proficiency in that substantive area of law to effectively represent the veteran. Now, with the VetLex network, every attorney’s eligibility criteria and area of legal expertise is built into the software to ensure that each referral or connection is made to the right lawyer or law firm. The VetLex network will only connect lawyers with cases that match their specialty, eligibility requirements and location.
Miguel Eaton, Partner at Jones Day, describes the benefits of using VetLex further stating, “The goal of VetLex is to be a tool for both Veterans and providers of pro bono legal services to find each other efficiently. It is a tool that is unique because it does not seek to replace the many organizations or individuals that already provide pro bono legal services to veterans, but rather to connect these groups so that no veteran is left behind.” Unite Us brings legal service providers together in a way that allows them to serve Veterans faster, more comprehensively, and more effectively.
As the dialogue surrounding the social determinants of health continues to evolve, we must not forget the importance of legal services and the larger impact that they have on overall health, particularly for vulnerable populations. To date, the primary legal requests across VetLex have been Housing Law, Family Law, and VA Benefits assistance. Each of these needs is inherently linked to the situation an individual finds themselves in and all of the co-occurring needs that go along with that situation. Only through collaborative care can these circumstances be addressed as one.
At Unite Us, we are driven by networks of committed and passionate individuals striving to make sure they are doing the right thing for their clients. To see our software and our team as the tool to support such a mission has been an honor. We are excited to see what the future holds for VetLex, and give special thanks to our amazing partners at ABA and Jones Day!