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Erin Sutton

2015, Equal Justice Works Fellowships, Erin Sutton

Erin Sutton

Name of Host Organization: LAF
City, State: Chicago, Illinois
Issue area: Health Care/Medical-Legal Partnership, Veterans' Rights
Sponsors: Discover, Inc., Mayer Brown LLP

The Project

Erin will create a medical-legal partnership with a mental health provider serving veterans to promote better treatment outcomes allowing veterans and families to sustain healthy, stable, civilian lives

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project
Since 2001, more veterans have died of suicide than of combat-related injuries. As many as 15,200 service members returning to Illinois from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or severe depression. PTSD often creates instability at work and at home, increases the risk of suicide, and causes other serious health and socio-economic issues. In Illinois, veterans are overrepresented among the homeless: 13% of the homeless population can claim veteran status, even though only 6% of the non-homeless population are veterans. In addition to homelessness, nearly 1 in 5 young veterans in Illinois lives below 200% of the poverty line. Many homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless cite legal issues as the cause. The US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Office of General Counsel has urged that an end to veteran homelessness requires investment in legal care. Despite this need, the VA has no statutory authority to provide or pay for legal services for veterans.
The Right Person For This Project
Erin is the right person for the project because:
• She worked as a legal aid paralegal out of community agencies all over Chicago before attending law school, where she witnessed first-hand the unmet legal and medical needs of veterans who were too often experiencing homelessness
• She became involved in Loyola’s Medical Legal Partnership—the Health Justice Project—and served as a fellow, policy advocate, and 711 student attorney to gain detailed knowledge of a medical legal partnership and how it can improve overall patient health and wellbeing
• She is passionate about mental health advocacy and has close ties to people struggling to gain acceptance and adequate treatment for mental illness and substance abuse issues
Plans For First Six Months of Fellowship
In the first six months, Erin will:
• Conduct a needs assessment to understand and triage the legal needs specific to patients
• Train medical providers to identify and screen for health-harming legal problems
• Develop a plan for embedding the project into the healthcare team, including an internal referral system for counselors to refer patients for legal assistance
• Create a feedback pathway to communicate with providers about the progress of their patients’ legal issues