Veteran homelessness is a national disgrace. Nowhere is the problem worse than here in Los Angeles – the homeless capital of the United States. Over 8,000 veterans are homeless in LA every night. More than 20,000 veterans are homeless in LA over the course of a year.
Fifteen years ago, Inner City Law Center started one of the few projects in the nation that offered free legal services to homeless veterans. Today, our Homeless Veterans Project serves veterans who have disabilities as a result of their military service and who live without housing. Our clients include veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, and as far back as World War II.
Serving Those Who Served
There is enormous unmet need for legal services for veterans. The RAND Corporation estimates that of the 1.64 million service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan as of October 2007, 320,000 experienced a traumatic brain injury during deployment and 300,000 suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression.
The dearth of legal services for very low income and homeless veterans is especially troubling because legal services are often essential for removing barriers to obtaining or retaining permanent housing, receiving needed healthcare, increasing income and opening doors to employment. Nationwide data show the likelihood of success with claims for VA healthcare and other benefits increases dramatically when veterans are represented by attorneys. This is especially true for the cases that ICLC focuses on – cases involving PTSD or traumatic brain injury, and cases related to military sexual trauma.
Helping Women Veterans
In 2009, ICLC began to focus on the needs of the growing number of female veterans who were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and becoming homeless. ICLC is the only legal services organization in the country that explicitly focuses on homeless women veterans. Women now comprise 13% of service members and about 8% of veterans. According to the VA, the number of homeless female veterans increased more than 140% from 2006 to 2010, compared to a 45% increase in homeless male veterans. The numbers are similar in LA where the Homeless Services Authority estimates that almost 1,000 of the 8,131 veterans who are homeless each night are women.
Many of our clients have been diagnosed with PTSD due to sexual assaults endured while on active duty. Studies by the Department of Defense have found that one in three female veterans experience military sexual trauma. The VA has been slow to come to grips with the extent and impact of the issue. ICLC helps these veterans obtain the disability compensation that they have earned and deserve.
For all of our veteran clients, ICLC staff works in close partnership with case managers and mental health providers to ensure that our clients receive the holistic set of services that they need. Legal assistance with navigating complex benefits systems, upgrading discharge status, expunging minor criminal records, and avoiding eviction, is often essential to obtaining or maintaining income, healthcare, permanent housing, and employment.
For more information about how you can help with this project please visit our Get Involved page or contact our Director of Pro Bono at Probono@innercitylaw.org. For more information about how Inner City Law Center can help you please visit our Get Help page.