Legal Aid Can Slice Through Veterans’ Benefits Backlog

Oped by director and volunteer at the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center about how civil legal aid helps veterans receive the lifesaving benefits they deserve.

Op-Ed (Connecticut)

Margaret Middleton, Timothy D. Bleasdale
Hartford Courant
June 6, 2014
Hartford Courant oped

Tags: Benefits of Legal Aid, Health Care, Public Benefits, Veterans

Organizations mentioned/involved: Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)


n recent years, more than half a million veterans struggling with poverty and service-connected disabilities were forced to wait months — sometimes more than a year — to receive veterans benefits that can mean the difference between sleeping on the streets and the dignity of having a place to call home.

Connecticut Veterans Legal Center’s experiences grappling with this problem demonstrate the opportunity for civil legal aid organizations to make a meaningful difference for veterans stuck in the benefits backlog.

Veterans do not automatically receive benefits upon leaving the military. To receive their hard-earned benefits, veterans must navigate a labyrinth of forms and provide extensive medical and financial records to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The burden of this application process is exacerbated by long waits for a response. Civil legal aid attorneys are helping ease the application burden, decrease wait times and improve benefit outcomes.

Civil legal aid programs are stepping in to help veterans receive the lifesaving benefits they deserve. A recent Connecticut Veterans Legal Center case highlights the substantial difference legal aid can make. When a veteran with serious mental health issues was repeatedly denied disability benefits, she asked the center for help. The VA had denied her applications since the mid-1990s. Like many veterans, she did not understand why the claim was denied or how to appeal, so she repeatedly filed the same claim. This common cycle contributes to the backlog.

Visit the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center website.