More Veterans Die By Suicide Than In Combat. But It’s Preventable

Anna Richardson and Sarah Roxburgh, co-executive directors of Veterans Legal Services, write in an op-ed in WBUR’s Cognoscenti that, “Veteran suicide is one of the greatest crises of our time.”

“Research has also shown that veterans with legal problems are nearly twice as likely to have serious thoughts of suicide, and are 1 1/2 times more likely to attempt it, than veterans without legal problems. It’s one of the reasons the Department of Veterans Affairs strongly encourages VA-housed legal clinics, where VA sites partner with legal providers, such as ours, to help resolve legal problems that are burdening veterans.” Read more at WBUR.

VLS launches new partnership

Veterans Legal Services and the VA Boston Healthcare System recently launched a new medical-legal partnership to provide free civil legal assistance to income-eligible veterans. VLS will run a monthly legal clinic on the campus of the Brockton VA, which provides both inpatient and outpatient services.

The Brockton VA campus features medical care, mental health services, a domiciliary for veterans struggling with housing instability, and a residential rehabilitation unit for women suffering from both PTSD and substance use disorders, among other services. The campus is also home to a Women’s Health Center.

VA personnel from the Boston Healthcare System will make all referrals to the clinic, which VLS will staff through a combination of staff attorneys and pro bono support.

Studies have shown that medical-legal partnerships lead to significant improvement in patients’ overall well-being, including a reduction in their perceived stress. By bringing legal services into medical settings, patients are able to more readily access specialized supportive care for their unmet legal needs.

“Veterans Legal Services is honored to partner with the Boston VA Healthcare System to provide high-quality and high-impact civil legal assistance,” said Sarah Roxburgh, Esq., VLS’s co-executive director and chief of operations. “Civil legal aid is an essential service, and VLS is proud to contribute to the holistic care of VA patients.”

The new partnership with the Boston VA Healthcare System is in addition to VLS’s existing clinic partnerships, which include the Bedford VA Healthcare System; the New England Center and Home for Veterans, in Boston; the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home; and the Norfolk County Veterans Treatment Court, in Dedham.

“We’re thrilled to offer veterans free civil legal assistance here on the Brockton VA campus in partnership with Veterans Legal Services,” said Rachel Seed, veterans justice outreach coordinator with the VA Boston Healthcare System. “Offering legal support services on-site will help local veterans access the integrated care they need through referrals from professionals throughout the Boston VA Healthcare System.”

The launch of VLS’s newest medical-legal partnership was made possible in part through a grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which is dedicated to ensuring that impacted veterans, service members, their families, and their caregivers thrive long after they return home.

CLA’s Re-Entry Project assists those with criminal records

Community Legal Aid, Berkshire County’s free legal aid organization with offices in Pittsfield and North Adams, announces the creation of the Berkshire Legal Re-Entry Project to assist Berkshire residents who have been incarcerated, have prior justice system involvement or a substance use disorder, with housing and employment legal services…The project will be led by CLA Attorney Alyssa Golden who has extensive experience representing formerly incarcerated individuals and those with substance use disorder. Read more in The Berkshire Eagle.

What’s it like to be black and disabled in America?

…Miles’s story is emblematic of what it’s like to be Black and disabled in America: Every day is a struggle to not get left behind…Jevon Okundaye, a 24-year-old Black man with autism, worries that one day he’ll be stopped by a police officer and his lack of eye contact will be perceived as a threat. Okundaye, who graduated from Tufts University in 2019 with a degree in English and Africana Studies and works now as a fellow focusing on race and disability for the nonprofit group Massachusetts Advocates for Children, carries an autism ID card in his wallet but isn’t sure that will offer any protection. “If I were to pull it out in a panic, a police officer might think I’m reaching for a weapon,” he told me. Okundaye hopes that if the cops ever stop him, they’ll give him a chance to explain his diagnosis. Read more in The Atlantic.

After 17 months, eviction lawyer program launching in Bristol County

Southeast Housing Court is set to launch a program today that provides free legal services to tenants and landlords engaged in the eviction process. After 17 months and more than 600 eviction executions since the pandemic began, it is the last housing court division in the state to adopt the Lawyer for the Day program…“If we genuinely value access to justice, then access to counsel must be expanded for those who cannot afford an attorney,” wrote Susan Nagl, executive director of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, which will provide lawyers for the program. “Tenants cannot meaningfully engage with the court process unless they know their rights and are able to effectively advance them.” Read more in The New Bedford Light

Construction Project Highlights Accessibility Issues for People With Disabilities

,,,”That whole neighborhood is effectively shut off to a person who uses a wheelchair,” said Tom Murphy, a senior attorney with the Disability Law Center.

Murphy also met us at the location to give his assessment of the ADA-related issues. His organization recently reached an agreement with the City of Boston to install a curb ramp in hundreds of intersections every year until every sidewalk is accessible.

According to Murphy, federal law requires a minimum of 36 inches for clear path of travel. As we walked around the area with a tape measure, it was easy to find plenty of examples that did not measure up. Read more and watch at NBC10Boston.

Court Ruling, Variant Altering Landscape on Evictions

A growing chorus of activists and lawmakers want to see action at the state and local level to stave off a potential surge of housing removals, warning that tenants are more “exposed” in the wake of a new U.S. Supreme Court decision lifting a federal eviction moratorium…Andrea Park, a legal aid attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said Sept. 1 will serve as “another day that rent is going to come due” for families already in the hole due to the pandemic. “People are absolutely exposed now,” Park said in an interview. “There are people who are behind on rent from COVID from last month, two months ago, last year. It’s another month that can pile up. Now that the CDC (moratorium) is not in place, to the extent that those were people who were being protected by the CDC, today or tomorrow or next week, their landlords can go to court and say ‘there’s nothing available that this tenant has told me they’re protected by, and I want them out.’ ” Read more in State House News Service. (Subscription may be required.)

End Of Federal Eviction Moratorium Raises Concerns

The end of the CDC’s federal eviction moratorium, after a divided Supreme Court ruling on Thursday night, is being met with disappointment by both local advocacy groups and some landlords as well…Jessica Drew, a staff attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services, said the end of the federal moratorium has the potential to start a wave of evictions in Massachusetts. And while she said the state has more aid resources than others, she sees the process of applying for rental assistance —with documentation that has to go through multiple agencies — as being too burdensome for many people to complete. “You know, you have a family that’s in crisis, maybe they’re dealing with COVID and the impending eviction and trying to get their kids to school,” Drew said. “And now on top of that, they’re having to apply for rental assistance and provide all these documents, and that’s a challenge in itself.” Read more at GBH News.

End of eviction moratorium brings worry

Anxiety is high among tenants, landlords, and housing advocates as the midnight Saturday expiration date for the federal eviction moratorium looms, but what the end of the tenant protection will actually mean is uncertain…Andrea Park, a housing attorney for the Mass Law Reform Institute, said the federal moratorium was not a blanket ban on evictions, but allowed renters who met certain criteria such as having lost income due to the pandemic or being at risk for homelessness fill out a declaration that would protect them from eviction. Renters could still be taken to court if their landlord challenged the declaration, but even if the tenant lost the case they couldn’t be removed from the unit until the moratorium expired. “It’s going to be a lot of chaos in the courts,” Park said of the August 1 expiration. She predicts that landlords will be seeking permission to move forward with cases that were paused or to remove tenants whose evictions were approved by courts but who were previously shielded from action. Those landlords who held out on evictions due to procedural hurdles will likely go forward once the moratorium ends. Read more in Commonwealth Magazine

Massachusetts Housing Advocates Fear Wave Of Evictions As Moratorium Times Out

The federal government’s eviction moratorium expires this weekend, removing the last remaining protection for tenants who’ve fallen behind on rent during the pandemic…Andrea Park, a housing attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said the Biden administration is encouraging quick distribution of federal aid…Gary Klein, who leads the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project at Greater Boston Legal Services, estimated that about 100,000 families in the state are behind on their rent and the federal moratorium was protecting many of them who have not yet received government aid. He says the expiration of the moratorium will mean more evictions. “The moratorium has been acting as a dam, preventing at least some part of potential cases from being filed,” Klein said. “When the moratorium goes away, we’re going to see a flood of new cases.” Read more at WGBH.