Vets who receive medical-legal aid show improvements in mental health

Legal assistance with housing, benefits, and other matters increases mental health and other quality-of-life outcomes in veterans, according to research.
A man in a U.S. military uniform and a man in a civilian suit shake hands with the American flag in the background.


Veterans who receive legal help with housing, benefits, and consumer or personal matters have increased income, fewer problems finding housing, and even experience some mental health benefits, says a new study led by researchers from Yale and the Veterans Affairs (VA) New England Mental Illness, Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC) in West Haven.

The study, published Dec. 4 in the journal Health Affairs, followed for a year the status of 148 Connecticut and New York veterans who received help from legal non-profit groups embedded with medical teams at VA offices, pairings known as medical-legal partnerships. 

We found a reduction of hostility, anxiety, and paranoia as well as improvement in income and fewer days homeless among those who received help from medical-legal partnerships,” said Jack Tsai, lead author, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale and core investigator at VA New England MIRECC. “You can target one life domain, and the benefits spill over to others as well.”

Veterans in the study were clients of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center in West Haven and the New York Legal Assistance Group in New York City.  The non-profit groups worked with medical teams at local VAs to identify issues that may affect veterans’ health, such as evictions, disputes with landlords, divorces, or difficulty in obtaining benefits.

While some of mental benefits were sustained over time, other measures such as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression did not show sustained improvement, said the researchers.

Robert A. Rosenheck, professor of psychiatry at Yale and senior investigator for VA New England MIRECC, was also an author of the study. Primary funding for the study came from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.

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