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The U.S. Constitution affords defendants facing criminal charges the right to an attorney. If they cannot afford one, the government will provide counsel free of charge. However, there is no right to counsel for those facing civil legal issues — including the threat of eviction, the need for domestic violence protections, or child custody matters. Those who lack the financial means to hire an attorney typically face these challenges without any legal representation. This system perpetuates a crisis of exclusion — one that disproportionately impacts those with very limited financial means. 

A 2022 Department of Veterans Affairs survey found that nine of the top ten unmet needs of veterans experiencing homelessness are legal needs. And, after 20 years of collecting this data, the VA stated, “[U]nmet needs are primarily services that VA cannot provide directly. This underscores the importance of collaboration to meet the needs of homeless Veterans to successfully end Veteran homelessness.” (U.S.Department of Veterans Affairs, October 2023, Project CHALENG.)

According to the Legal Services Corporation, approximately 70% of veteran households face at least one civil legal challenge per year. Of those households, 21% face six or more legal challenges annually. Civil legal aid is a proven remedy to this problem.

Closing the Civil Justice Gap

The "justice gap," commonly defined as the difference between the civil legal needs of economically disadvantaged individuals and the resources available to meet those needs, is a significant and persistent problem that affects many millions of Americans each year. According to the Legal Services Corporation, 98% of tenants in eviction cases and 95% of parents in child support cases face the legal system without any legal representation.


VLS Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel Anna Richardson and Harvard Law School Professor Martha Minow discuss "Civil Justice for All," a report produced by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. With a topical focus on Veterans, Housing, Families, and Health, the report issued a wide array of recommendations for closing the justice gap, including the resources necessary to make it happen.

Legal Services Corporation's Report of the Veterans Task Force 

Bob Woodruff Foundation's Stand SMART for Heroes


The Case for Collaboration: Strengthening Ties Between Civil Legal Aid and Veteran-Serving Organizations

National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership & Bob Woodruff Foundation


Expanding VA-Housed Legal Clinics to Serve Veterans

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