Medical Legal Partnerships: Veterans’ health beyond the stethoscope


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Mike, a Connecticut Veteran, has high praise for VA’s medical legal partnership and the difference it has made in his life.

“Their support, encouragement and technical assistance made the difference. I now have peace of mind. Within a year, all my criminal offenses will be banished from my record.

“It’s incredible. I never thought it would happen and didn’t think it was even possible. All it took was knowledge, persistence, determination and support. All Veterans need these legal services.”

If you haven’t heard of medical legal partnerships, here’s a little background.

Health, while considered to be heavily grounded in genetics, medical care and personal choices, is in fact largely determined by social and environmental factors such as income, access to healthy food, appropriate medical care, housing, job security and education.

In some cases, an imbalance in these factors can be the result of compounding legal factors such as illegal evictions, wrongful denial of health insurance or benefits and other legal needs. When this is the case, health needs transcend beyond the care of a provider’s stethoscope and into the greater context of environment.

Building successful collaborations

Medical Legal Partnerships support care collaboration between medical and legal professionals in an effort to address the outstanding medical and legal needs of individuals. The partnerships train professionals to work together, helping Veterans  through informed practice, and transform services to include addressing legal factors.

The resulting impact includes reduced patient stress, a decline in the frequency of their hospital visits and increased use of prescribed medications and care.

VA currently has 17 Medical Legal Partnerships: Viera, FL Outpatient Clinic; San Francisco Health System: SF VAMC; Maine Health System: Togus VAMC; Seattle, WA; Oakland, CA; Oklahoma City, OK; St. Petersburg, FL; Connecticut Health System: Errera Community Care Center; Greater Los Angeles Health System: West Los Angeles; New York Harbor Healthcare System Manhattan Campus; Northport, NY: VAMC; Bronx, NY: VAMC; Canandaigua, NY: VAMC; Miami, FL VAMC.

VA hopes to expand the program to every VA Medical Center eventually.

Within VA, Medical Legal Partnerships are designed to integrate care between VA medical providers and on-site pro bono attorneys through referrals and continued collaboration between the interdisciplinary team.

The complex care needs of Veterans increases the viability of the partnerships, as the return to civilian life can be marked by poverty, mental health diagnoses, homelessness and a multitude of other psychosocial stressors.  According to VA’s 2016 Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups for Veterans survey of homeless Veterans, 5 of their 10 unmet needs were legal in nature: eviction/foreclosure issues, child support and family law, outstanding warrants/fines, restoring driver’s licenses, and discharge upgrades, each of which can be addressed within the care setting of MLPs.

Help for legal challenges difficult to understand

Mike’s story is not an anomaly to the millions of Veterans served by the VA Healthcare system, many of whom struggle to overcome legal challenges that are difficult to understand. With the assistance of compassionate attorneys, Veterans are able to refocus their energy and begin to build a better future.

For Veterans with these types of outstanding needs, standard medical care will have little impact on long-term health outcomes and will more likely provide a temporary “band-aid” effect. In order to ensure long-term well-being, providers, as well as the greater healthcare system must look beyond presenting symptoms and towards root causes.

Veterans can ask their primary care provider for a referral to the program.

Those seeking care cannot always be expected to understand the relationship between legal needs and health outcomes. The healthcare system should assume responsibility for understanding the implications of turmoil in the greater environment and implement care beyond the stethoscope.

For more information about Legal Help for Veterans, please visit:

https://www.va.gov/OGC/LegalServices.asp

For access to current VA Medical Legal Partnerships please visit:

https://www.va.gov/ogc/docs/LegalServices.pdf


Alexis Ferruccio

Alexis Ferruccio

About the author: Alexis Ferruccio, is a Master of Social Work student, and is completing a policy focused practicum in the Care Management and Social Work office through the University of Alabama’s School of Social Work. One of her primary projects was to assist with the expansion and implementation of the Medical Legal Partnership program.

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