Updated: Apr 1, 2021
All of us at Veterans Legal Services hope you and your loved ones are doing well during this challenging time. We write to share how the pandemic is affecting Massachusetts’ low-income veterans, how VLS is responding, and to ask for your continued support. How COVID-19 is impacting Massachusetts’ low-income veterans For many of VLS’s clients, their legal problems are building behind the scenes while courts are currently open for emergency matters only. Massachusetts has ordered a moratorium on evictions, which will delay those matters until the summer, though many of the veterans VLS serves are unable to pay rent due to job loss.
For those trying to co-parent, challenges exist given health concerns around staying within one household and some family members getting exposed to COVID-19. Further, those unable to pay a child support order or those suddenly not receiving ordered child support will face financial implications into the future. With unemployment at an all-time high, some veterans are left turning to programs such as unemployment insurance, Chapter 115, and SNAP (food stamps) for the first time, as the only option for themselves and their families.
How VLS is responding
VLS normally provides free in-person legal clinics at community sites such as Bedford VA Medical Center, Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, and New England Center and Home for Veterans, but this model is not possible in the current environment. To overcome this challenge, VLS has created a new program model to ensure Massachusetts’ veterans have access to the legal support they need, while ensuring their safety and the safety of the VLS staff and staff at community partner sites. Veterans may call the usual VLS office phone number to complete an eligibility screening OR they may complete VLS’s new online screening tool. Eligible veterans complete an intake with a VLS team member over the phone, and then get connected with an attorney with relevant expertise for a free phone consultation, which may include remote completion of court filings where appropriate to protect the veterans’ rights. VLS has also advocated for low-income veterans during the pandemic, working to ensure that they are aware of and can access Massachusetts Chapter 115 benefits, a state subsistence benefit for low-income veterans and their families. These efforts were covered in a recent Boston Globe article and involved collaboration with Harvard Veterans Legal Clinic, the Department of Veterans’ Services, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and the Department of Health & Human Services. VLS helped promote this available benefit in conjunction with Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, which is adding flyers to 40,000 veterans’ food packages to be distributed at Gillette Stadium and with Food for Free, an organization distributing food to those in need.
Asking for your support VLS has begun to see the impact of the fallout from this health and economic pandemic. Funding commitments from private foundations have been reduced. VLS’s funding from the Commonwealth’s budget is likely to be impacted. IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts), which is one of the primary sources of legal aid funding, is anticipated to be reduced. It is unknown when any of us will be able to host or attend a traditional fundraising gala.
All of this poses a lot of uncertainty. But we don’t want veterans to be uncertain about whether help will be there when they need it most. As the next weeks and months play out, we anticipate that our veterans will face even more legal challenges that threaten their housing, finances, and families. Your continued support of our work is deeply appreciated.