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SHAHEEN INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO HELP REDUCE DISABLITY CLAIMS BACKLOG AND VETERAN HOMELESSNESS THROUGH VETERANS LEGAL CLINICS

Legal clinics will provide pro bono services to veterans, resulting in expedited claims processing, reduced homelessness

May 23, 2013

(Washington, DC) – Building on their continued efforts to support American veterans, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) today introduced legislation to increase cooperation between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and veterans legal clinics. The legislation, the Veterans Legal Support Act of 2013, will maximize the effectiveness of these law school programs and encourage their continued development.

Some law schools and their student volunteers are making significant progress reducing disability claims backlogs and veterans homelessness in communities across the country.  Under attorney supervision, students provide a range of pro bono legal services, including assistance with disability claims, foreclosures, bankruptcies, divorces, child custody and even minor criminal cases.  By assisting veterans with complicated benefits claims, legal clinics are turning VA’s most time consuming cases into organized applications that are significantly easier to process.  Moreover, research suggests that expanding access to basic legal assistance is key to preventing veterans homelessness.   Since 2008, law schools in 18 states have developed clinical programs that specifically assist veterans. 

“We have a responsibility to take care of our veterans and the VA isn’t currently doing enough. The claims backlog is unacceptable and we still have too many veterans out on the streets,” said Senator Shaheen. “Some of our nation’s law schools are greatly reducing processing times for the most difficult benefits claims and expanding access to legal services, both of which are key to preventing homelessness. Our bill would authorize the VA to work more closely with these programs and lower barriers for additional schools to develop their own. Our goal is to have a veterans legal clinic in each state.”   

 

“After putting their lives on the line in the service to this country the last thing our men and women in uniform should have to do is fight for the care they deserve when they come home,” said Senator Klobuchar. “This legislation will help reduce the disability claims backlog and make sure our veterans have access to the basic legal assistance many need to get the benefits they’ve earned.”

 

“The women and men who serve in our military put their lives on the line every day to defend our freedoms. We owe them nothing less than our full commitment to making sure our veterans get the care and services they’ve earned when they come home,” said Senator Murphy. “The VA is already stretched thin and in need of reform to help reduce the alarming claims backlog, and this bill will help more veterans get the services they urgently need. We all share the goal of protecting those who have served our country, and I look forward to making real progress on this critical issue.”

More than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA’s disability claims backlog, and the number of claims pending has grown by over 2000 percent over the past four years. The average wait time for processing a disability or pension claim currently stands at 262 days.  In 2012, on any given night, it is estimated more than 62,000 veterans slept on the streets.

Preventative services like expedited claims assistance and legal counsel offer veterans an opportunity to address challenges before they deteriorate, often resulting in significant long-term savings to the government.

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