Here’s how community partnerships work. BayLegal helps communities in northern California access justice by providing free civil legal aid to low-income people, including Veterans.
VA social workers with Palo Alto VA identified Veterans with civil legal problems underlying their medical issues and referred them to lawyers so they could solve problems together.
VA selected VA Palo Alto’s partnership with Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal) as one of its winners in the 2021 VHA National Community Partnership Challenge (CPC).
In California’s bay area, a disabled Black Vietnam Veteran was experiencing hunger and homelessness. He struggled to contact VA due to dementia, mental health issues, and low literacy.
Team members from VA Palo Alto Health Care System.
But thanks to the partnership between BayLegal and VA Palo Alto, VA social workers connected the Veteran to legal aid lawyers who successfully assisted him in getting in-home support and Medicaid coverage.
Counseling, intervention and a furnished apartment
VA social workers also provided daily counseling, crisis intervention, and ensured the Veteran made it to medical and legal appointments. They helped him move back into his community in a fully furnished apartment with a voucher from the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
“This partnership plays a role in the Veteran’s pursuit of whole-health recovery as it increases their access to a much-needed resource,” said Lori Buelna, supervising social worker at VA Palo Alto. “It restores a sense of hope and control, promoting their health and well-being. The partnership is a catalyst for social change and its partners teamed up as change agents.”
In 2021, the CPC focused on partnerships dedicated to serving Veterans from all backgrounds and experiences in difficult circumstances. VA Palo Alto and BayLegal partnership tailored their services to each Veteran patient and client and their families.
“Many Veterans are living with the effects of trauma from their service,” Buelna said. “In order to effectively provide legal services and make sure its services are accessible to all Veterans, BayLegal meets clients where they are. And that can mean driving to a Veteran’s home for meetings or coming up with creative ways to communicate that are sensitive to a Veteran’s needs.”
“I am dancing with my hands in the air!”
VA Palo Alto staff screened Veterans for health risk factors like food insecurity and homelessness or risk of homelessness during medical appointments. Legal aid lawyers then helped eligible patients fight evictions, reinstate driver’s licenses, and access VA and disability benefits.
“I remember the day I called him to tell him the good news,” Buelna added. “We told him ‘You did it, you won!’ and he said ‘Lori, I knew it, I knew you would help to figure out a way to help me, and you would not leave me alone to die. You and BayLegal did it. I am dancing with my hands up in the air with you right now.'”
The CPC is managed by the VA National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships (HAP), which facilitates partnerships advancing the health and well-being of Veterans. The CPC recognizes and awards outstanding nonmonetary partnerships that benefit Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors. For more information on HAP’s partnership work and the CPC, please visit: va.gov/healthpartnerships. For more information about medical-legal partnerships and VA resources, please visit: https://www.va.gov/healthpartnerships/updates/mlp/mlpadditionalresources.asp