Examining the Problems that Plague U.S. Veteran Care

PSA Programming
Saturday, July 7th
On this week's edition of "Boston Community Affairs," Alex speaks with Anna Richardson, co-director of Veterans Legal Services. Alex asks Anna about the biggest issues facing the veteran community, including chronic homelessness and suicide. They discuss some of the reasons for these atrocious conditions and some possible solutions.

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Good morning and welcome into another addition of Boston community affairs and WE I money is actually Manila the fourth on this past Wednesday. I very patriotic Tammy your patriotic holiday. Lots of rates throughout the country. Most of which if not all of which featured veterans marching the routes. So all that senate that'd be appropriate this week take elect. The veteran care system in this country in particular. Odd how we treat them and the problems that back that the veteran community faces an iPad I'd be great to speak with honor Richardson was the co director. I veterans legal services aid organization here in Massachusetts. Which strives to promote self sufficiency stability. And spent security of homeless and all come better and their freely accessible legal services I you look at the statistics. About how the veteran community is doing. In this country and it is it is pretty dark for every homeless person on the street there's approximately one in four chance that person has served our country. I estimates show that approximately twenty of our veterans take their own lives. Every day. And just the amazing thing is less than 1% of our population. Has now served for the military. But yet as you mentioned one in four. Homeless people are veterans. You know less than half of the country's 21 point two million veterans are employed. As of 2014. I veterans are twice as likely as the average American. To be chronically homeless. So you know we spend so much time especially this time a year. Thanking veterans for their services. Up plotting it was a walk down the street and not so great they deserve every single ounce of our of our gratitude. But it's we talked the talk. Don't really seemed to walk the walk in terms of veteran can sell again honor Richardson she's co director and veterans legal services she joins us shows we talked more. About the upper carry a statement your veterans or end the services that her organization provides. All pro Bono by the way AD do all of this for free. And also some of these specific challenges there are now facing. Are the last couple years in terms of the apology BTQ community with LG BTQ veterans and transgender veterans as well. On and off so why immigration to the US army has been a path to citizenship. By they've been increasing legal problems with that. As well and also announced on about the veterinary care system here in Massachusetts because it is unique guy from the rest the countries so a good conversation again that it was appropriate. Given how the holiday this past week it's on a Richardson impostor community affairs money ms. boxer. And welcome back to Boston community affairs and WEEI in on the phone line right now we have got. I Richardson she's the co director of veterans legal services which strives to promote self sufficiency stability in defiant security. A homeless and on combat Ernster freely accessible legal services on how are you welcome to yourself or are now. I'm doing well so I guess the first question would be and I should mention with the fourth being this past Wednesday that as appropriate center show or on veterans inventor and Karen particulars so our first question would be. Tell us where organizations. In more specifics and I just gave no kind of work you guys do. Tommy attorneys were kind to your umbrella except. No legal services as a legal aid organizations that we provide. Legal assistance to veterans who are homeless or low income and at that no costs to that matter and so it's important to us that we're making her services as accessible as possible that people can't afford an attorney who may need one evil to get that service. And we have each staff people currently six of which are attorneys but we also have partnerships with about 25 but in law firm. Many of them red alert large block urgency here back in the news so we have some really wonderful proposal partners and about 200 problem attorneys you also help us. And without or evil he's serious cases serve about 750. Battery case history here. Wow so and how many attorneys roughly work pro Bono for you guys how many hours they put an end. I'm so did the ballots due to promote its earnings and it. I you know it's thousands of hours and thousands of dollars sort of services the Boston Legal communities incredibly generous but their time and it helps. Help these veterans get you know what they need them they're facing a lot the difficult challenges. Yeah and dies he looked at yet at least we spend so much time about it. You know thanking our veterans for their service and in in Nina re really reviewing them. And popular culture is great and we should lead but then you look at the state that a lot of them are and it means you know the numbers less than half the country's. I veterans were employed as a Tony fourteen. They're twice as likely as average American to be chronically homeless I read that. More than a third of homeless individuals across the country are veterans and I think that's statistics few years old maybe it's more now. And this is a general question but had a began here and again assess the situation. Well the reality is that military service has tremendous consequences. For the men and women who serve and their feelings and it can have incredible physical mental and financial impact on their lives. And when you consider that right now less than 1% of our population is serving in the military. And combine that with the fact that we are in our nation's longest continuous period of armed conflict in our nation's history. The reality is we're asking are really small group of individuals to perform an extraordinary service and replacing an incredible burden on them and their feelings. And often. Leads to a lot of problems after the transition from service and it came higher in breakdown in the relationships. In the financial difficulties. Challenges with employment that you just how I related. And many of these issues can and compound to the point where it that actually need a lawyer to help them sort through all of those problems. And when you're on top of that that there trying to access. Chronically dysfunctional system and that the day. Eight it can be an incredible incredible challenge cities after. And it read some of the talking points. Every host of its -- would guy is homeless as we mentioned and also add that. Approximate twenty ever veterans take their own lives. Every day so it just a chronic homelessness and employment issues it seems like mental health is this a massive massive problem as well. And then again you know businesses. Group that is. Tremendously. Giving and serving and services that huge part of their identity and and and something that's incredibly important to them. And with that often comes they're reluctant to ask for help and I'd get the island me when they really need help in helping have reached a point. Where. The other really spiraling out of control and no one of the things that we try to do you hear it veterans legal services. Is that hate that services directly to disaster and that we actually partner with. Various patent community shelters service centers. VA hospitals. And I actually have a physical presence at those locations we take a team of lawyers to need that effort VA medical center. Meaning that pattern corporate action is another one of our community partners. We have teams that actually go out to those locations and that's where we're making the first interaction with their pattern clients. And the reason for that is that we know look we wait for their match and ask for how does that they may. Think that you know they can take care at 101000 now weeks of lap last possible minute moment but. If we can get to them ahead of time and really nip these problems in the by the lawyer Mickey huge huge difference city's veterans and their family. He mentioned needed dvd chronically scandal scandal playing dead Department of Veterans Affairs or what you hear so much about that but. And up like we hear a lot of specifics or what are some of the specifics about the problems that act L that I agency. At first debate you know of the individuals that we interact with especially at the VA in the healthcare facilities are doing a phenomenal job. And chronically under resource. You know and doing. You know the best that they can with what's available to them I think it's important against them a lot of credit for that and what I often hear from client is that when they're able to act that VA medical care that they here in Boston it's extremely high quality though. Fortunately. Massachusetts has not been made that. Some of the major issues that you seem like this seeker waiting lists and Phoenix and things like that. Into reality of the VA is that it are in. Second largest government agency. And any time that you have a massive system like that you're gonna happen. Situations or people fall if crack. But there are in a week times kind benefits claims that you know are astronomical. One of the veterans we assisted here and feel I was. 1970. While ports and the 1970s. It was only a little later intervened that he was actually able to you that the benefits that he had earned. So he would that this film is set up and such away that it's very very difficult for patterns to navigated there. Now that is that is an incredible anecdotes on Department of Veterans Affairs is in the news a lot. Earlier this year due to secretary David soak in and his lavish stop crude ask spending habits that you could say. On don't hear much about it recently now what kind of changes if any have you seen. Since it's from administration took office and also I'm attribute as a position on this but if you do. What are your thoughts and privatization of the system and what that would potentially do to veterans in need as well. Well I think it's important for me that they veterans legal services is the only not a political jargon as they hide immigrant advocates the organization. That we don't take their political positions on particular. You know secretary or anything like that. You know I was mentioning because that's really eat at for the first time in years were you sobs are better fares and use everyday but of course you know on the cover that. That it has the sex scene salacious scandals and I actually you know the problems in the department but I digress to. Well and I think you're in you look at the track record with AB AB history as fact that there has been. Have been problems with that agencies serve for quite some time that that predate the current administration but there's certainly continuing as me. Proceed here. Every every administration has these challenges with how the VA can best meet the needs of our actions. As to use the question of private aviation. I think what we have seen is that the VA is actually quite capable and and delivering high quality specialized care tee back and that. May not be available in other actors. Especially for people who do not have a net interest income are private health insurance. Some of the excitement health care that the veterans needs mean really difficult to find and I know that from some of the clients that we have that are nineties Matt. How to access that resource and having a difficult time. So there in lean in I think the issue is is one that's more than anything else at least for our actions here in Boston. What concerns me with. The privatization pieces making sure that our veterans get the high quality care that they deserve from people who are trained and knowledgeable in how to provide it. I don't know that the you know. Private system is equipped to handle that specialized needs of veterans that have been met by the VA and met well by the VA when they're able to act. Her quite some time now. And so that's my concern at that position. Right. I and to get organic Ivan on Richardson she's court director veterans legal services. You mentioned the fact that. Such a small percentage receive 1% of our population serves in then military. Actually currently less than 1% wow. On so that's me is. Big problem to win that there's this disconnect as you mentioned we're at the wind a stretch in US history continuous war. But less than 1% of population. Actually served serrated seems like it is that just compounds the proms too because there's this. Disconnect from society where it's not all were on in this together anymore it seems like just such a small group that is. Is serving the country in and dealing with the after effects of. And then you know edit that the military create that's the only for people that can be really wonderful but. And of course that can be isolating as you mentioned though that he CEO. At the time when everyone. The father grandfather but Robert you were Vietnam. And you know we're where we had more people who were serving and so that was the more familiar experience. Her people's appearances they were coming home. On that that's supported system in reality is is quite different now and it's really to their credit as the generation of Vietnam veterans that Wear as welcoming and understanding of our veterans. Who are serving today because they did not receive that same welcome home and returned. But the reality is that if you're ahead 22 year old who served in the military are. You know you're now going back to college after your peers have graduated. In your experience that they're going to be radically different than those of the people are around you. And viewers if you were going to be able to understand where you complement the challenges that that may create right. And some of those challenges we've talked about you've chronic homelessness you mental health issues. What can the community do you do to help them. There MEA thinking you know I think there reputable veterans service organization to support is really import and if this is something that you care about and you'll hear it BL last. It's our honor and privilege to serve her match and every day. You we are helping them was really not simple practical problems were helping them you know. Track and cannot be evicted from their poems are helping them is there in debt that they can't manage for helping. You navigate that really complicated VA system says that they are able to access the benefits and services that they've earned and don't give up and get frustrated. You know and one of the one of the most moving things that client has actually respect me was that. You know he told me he had actually considered taking his own life and then he has case manager brought him to via and he had a tap that a lawyer was willing to stand up for me and help me really was what turned it around for me it was polite at the end of the tunnel because they felt like if I hadn't. People behind me is the party mean where were willing to help. Beckett gets through that and that things would get better. So he'll finding that organization whether at veterans legal services or in another organization. That supports their actions and you know giving them your support weather could be. You know financial whether it be advocates see all of that is so important. Well and as some specific act cases you guys are working on. Now you have initiative with LG BTQ veterans that Tommy would have been about. These are total current team that you that the attorney general Lori Healey actually gave but he grants to support this special outreach to underserved pattern population including. ED TQ veteran. And that is specifically because. The has even more or get a copy and challenges with these systems that we talked about because he'd been negatively impacted by discriminatory policies like Don't Ask Don't Tell. And credit that's their policies that were discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. So a lot of these veterans have received discharge taxes that make him ineligible for benefits and services despite the fact. That the rest of their service may have been entirely meritorious. And you know that can vary tremendously command command is how people felt about that issue and whether or not that veteran. You know receives the discharged that they should happen leaving the military. So it that's the app policy has been repealed is great but it doesn't change the lasting consequences for those veteran. Many of whom are eligible to upgrade those discharges and access those services and we have a panel of attorneys here who are. Ready and willing to help them do that and we hope that those veterans to connect with us. They can go to our web site veterans legal services or which has information about our upcoming. Clinics where services are being offered at those locations that I mentioned. Or they can just call our office that 8573174474. I will be happy to speak out. Wow so when I Don't Ask Don't Tell is was was was was implemented in when it went before it was repealed. You would get nearly discharge if you were found to be daddy and so now it's been repealed. What's the process like for trying to re applied to those benefits do you make it sound like it's a lot more difficult and calling your local veterans affairs prancing high as regularly discharged please help me. Still we actually have to present the key to one of the board's audit heeded the discharge review board authority board of correction for military records depending on how long ago that Patrick discharged. And so it's not an automatic process it's one where we have to present evidence. As to what the appropriate districts. Would have been said that not an actor. And it. It's certainly a prop that. That people do navigate exactly on their own but we have layers were trained to do that too and participated in it theories of training with the puck in our association. On and done a lot of that before though. Where for the veteran it might be their first time approaching and we have players who can help and navigated many of them have actually handled these already. Routes are wired scores veterans still too negatively discharged because of their sexual orientation. Not eligible for benefits and well that's that's incredible on the. An individual there and incredibly high risk of all of those negative consequences though we've been talking about you know homelessness. Sometimes people are doing a military because. They come from a community that's not support it and that can be for a lot of reasons and sexual orientation means among them but. You know the military is turned into a path for college for people it's turned into the Gately other opportunities. One of the things that's been really. The bad practice the is that we're actually seeing that trend shortcomings that asking for help with immigration assistance as well because. The military with the past US citizenship for them. And actually recently we he that the state of action with getting citizenship who was told that he that they risk of deportation. Which is something that we did not see up until about the last two years are now. Wow yes that I mean that parallels as its man X questions that that's an addicting you guys from where a man recently been seen uptick. In these sorts of cases where veterans. There are people gym and join the army. As a pathway to citizenship but they're now wiped at risk of deportation are being told their risk what's what the problems that. Well thought there ain't profits are applying for US citizenship while you're serving but it often required submitting a lot of paperwork. Two I snapped and other agencies which have to be done wow that actually is not active duty and you can imagine how challenging it would be. Tune in even to communicate with your family from a place like Iraq or Afghanistan letter blown deal at any huge government agency to be canceling out while you're deploy later higher on active duty though. A lot of veterans are thinking I'll handle that when I get Holmes and many as. Legal permanent resident status the order and a green cards things like that that they're they're not. Now that they're really thinking about that while they're serving. Because they have other things they need to focus. Yeah their attention on so that they can get through that deployment in incumbent deeply. But if the veteran doesn't apply rather on active duty. I'm the process becomes more challenging and in what we've seen is a few veterans to come in recently who didn't hold. You know that there are legal permanent resident status as not being renewed or things of that nature. And we've had. Broken crane has been an incredible locker partner with some that they've really helped us. What those issues they have them. That particular turning it over there to. Help those veterans get there you have citizenship. And you know navigate again that complicated process that otherwise you think it's really really challenging for any individual to do on their own. Actually the AP reported even yesterday Thursday that some immigrant US army recruits who enlist in the military the promise pat citizenship. Now being abruptly discharged at record one immigration attorney says he knows more than. Forty of these cases he has been doing without as well. You know we haven't. Keen that yeah act but certainly at Arab action here in Massachusetts we're dealing with that issue we would be happy to hear from them and if there's something that we're able to be two sisters that one of our law firm partners and be able to do it's I'll. You know we we don't want that he Ani an individual is intense and happens Serbs have the negative consequences. Yeah absolutely. We're talking with and averaged out on Richardson is a co director. Veterans legal services. On another issue so we touch wood LG BTQ in general. Talked about in immigrants are veterans and and who serve how about those the transgender community in particular. Her alive let down their status military. Uncertain. We're doing what kind of work do you guys do with those folks in my palms in particular does Adam does Acker the veterans face. Her experiences there really challenging position. And at the end of the Obama administration. The move was toward open service for transgender certain members. And there has been. You know a lot of talk about reversing. The current ban is on hold in the court system that the moment. So is it remains a bit unclear as to how the military is gonna precede the fact. What we have seen from me transgender veterans that we work less is that these that these there an incredibly. Brazilian. You really. Just tremendously devoted individual who are willing to put their lives on the line so. You know that there again if they're facing issues that they discharge status or something like that we have folks that are here to help. There's a lot of other resources available. Different things like changing your name to you matches gender identity and things of that nature. Again you lawyers can help plant and her current law firm partners can help plants. There are some limits to that care that does veterans can receive within the VA system which is the challenge. Though he and do. Politics around that do you trickled down to use some consequences for it those individual actions that can place obstacles than. And their past and in there in me. Mean I patent some of the issues that they go a long list. So our goal is QB the past advocate for every action that we can't that comes in the door regardless of their gender their sexual orientation or race and ethnicity anything like that. You leave we care about the fact that these are people who served and that they were willing to stand up and put their lives on the line our country. And does Massachusetts have any difference laws in terms of veteran care than the rest of the country what is what is situation here in particular. The apparent achievements we actually have her really unique program at the chapter went fifteen program and it is a benefit program for low income back trend that is. Really unique to Massachusetts and the only place in the country that has that. So veterans who are struggling financially can go to their local veterans service officer and requested assistance and the local cities and towns all have the veterans service officer who administers these and a bad. And can provide assistance about actress and though. When we're dealing with battery and you are waiting 34 or five years per VA appeal or something like that. We do actually have a great resource in our local communities that we can go to. And then those benefits. Are reimbursed by the speed 75% of them are reimbursed by the state for the local community he's 25%. To keep pace and indeed I've. And can really be an incredible. Way to bridge that gap for families who are struggling. You know when when someone serving and they have a disabling event that happens and then they come whole minutes seeking monsters sometimes even years to access. Federal benefits that packed them local and these communities step up to how to make a huge difference. And now lastly on you guys have a doubt coming up on November 1 to please tell me a little bit about that. We do. You're really excited to be hosting our gala on November 1 and will be honoring Jim cut than February and founder of Sam Adams brewery. And beat them they're really wonderful. Think that the port better and then veteran entrepreneurs so we're very excited. To be able. Have him as our special gas. It will be at Harvard club and you know we we hope that everyone listening we'll think about joining us. And you can you know again visit our web site veterans legal services dot org. And that's where you can learn more or both about that event and how you can hope things get involved with our program. On Richardson he is because director veterans legal services. I would Strasser wrote self sufficiency stability in finance and financial security of homeless and welcome veterans through free accessible. Legal services on the guys do great work thanks for taking time mentor in the sirte rilya really appreciated. It. So once again take things go out to honor Richardson the co director of veterans legal services for take some time. And joining me on the show this week they really do incredible work. And it's heartening Q I hear how many attorneys. In the Boston area work for veterans legal services and do so free of charge probe on that is great. They do great work certainly worthy of support and it's something that we need given the precarious state. It's so many veterans are end and you just listen on the talk for. 120 Tony five minutes like we just stating in their to so many problems here to so many just messed up things it just seems so easily avoidable. IE go to the issue of LG BTQ veterans. And the fact that's you know don't Aston Telus employees. You were negatively discharge or could've been negatively discharged. Guy if your sexual orientation was discovered. So they get acts I mean you are negatively discharge from the army negatively discharge from the military which means. You were not entitled to that's on. Your out on the street basically. All because of your sexual orientation. That's no longer the case since to master Tom was or was repealed and the Obama ministries and that's good ideology BT IT QTQ. Veterans serving now. But it's not good for the ones he serves and many years and decades prior to that. And or negatively discharged and again or not talented that benefits and has now to discuss regret on the transgender veteran population. Whole different set a proms as well. In immigration to me now is pretty incredible that the US army. Top three assists in chip wad immigrants joined by. The paperwork not easy seeing increasing number of proms here that AP story just referenced as well so. Lots of problems with the veteran population. How we treat veterans by and as I was also sang it on and I think. A large part of it has to do with the fact that. Less than 1%. Of people in this country have served. We are so disconnected. Which makes these he talked tock. But not walked the walk in the landscape in this country would be so much differently for example. Many members of congress had people in their families you served your serve themselves so. A real important issue. At that the timing was good fourth of July to sop fourth of July parade this past three countries are members are armed forces are referenced celebrated. In some ways which is great by the need us and the good people at veterans legal services. To agree to. Oz thank you for listening another addition of Boston community affairs here in WEEI. As always you wanna hear topic discussed on the show. I am open to suggestion to send me team now. Alex WEEI dot com copying discuss that they scans on the Richardson we'll talk to you next Saturday morning so long thank you again for listening.