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Sometimes Legal Aid Isn’t Enough: A Case for MLPs

/ Blog Post

By Krista Selnau, Fellowships portfolio manager at Equal Justice Works and a 2013 Fellow sponsored by Walmart and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Photo of Krista Selnau
Photo of Krista Selnau

Medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) connect legal services organizations and healthcare providers to create holistic solutions for patients with health-harming civil legal and social needs, like unsafe housing and lack of access to benefits and insurance. Lawyers work side-by-side with doctors, nurses, social workers, and other clinical and non-clinical staff to screen and treat patients. Every year, MLPs resolve the social and legal issues that impede the health of thousands of families.

MLPs currently operate in more than 300 health care facilities in 48 states and counting. Equal Justice Works has played a critical role in helping support the MLP model nationwide by supporting more than 80 Fellows who have either started or expanded medical-legal partnerships, serving a variety of populations including children, seniors, and veterans.

Veteran-focused MLPs are near and dear to me—before joining Equal Justice Works, I founded and managed the Veterans Medical-Legal Partnership at Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Augusta, Maine, with the VA Maine Healthcare System. Having worked with veterans over the last 5 years, I’ve seen firsthand how critical MLPs are in addressing the serious challenges that our veterans face, including income instability, consumer issues, and homelessness.

Today, there are more than 25 MLPs at Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers across the country. Despite support from the legal system, the VA Office of General Counsel, and VA  Medical Centers, however, resources for starting and expanding veteran-focused MLPs are relatively scarce.

In December 2019, Springer Publishing released Intersections between Mental Health and Law among Veterans, a first of its kind textbook that examines the intersection of criminal and civil legal issues with the mental health of veterans after military deployment. I was proud to co-author the chapter, “Medical-Legal Partnerships in the VA,” with Rose Carmen Goldberg and the help of Equal Justice Works Fellow alums Samantha Kubek and Sara Huffman. Together, we provided a comprehensive overview of the MLP framework and gave an overview of the current state of MLPs at VA facilities across the country. Our chapter looks at the benefits of Veteran-focused MLPs, with case studies on four VA MLP sites in Maine, California, and New York that serve different segments of the veteran population—homeless, women, and senior veterans. It’s a fantastic resource for law students, lawyers, policymakers, and other advocates working to better coordinate care across sectors for our veterans.

To learn more about Equal Justice Works Fellows working on Medical-Legal Partnerships, click here.

Having worked with veterans over the last 5 years, I’ve seen firsthand how critical MLPs are in addressing the serious challenges that our veterans face, including income instability, consumer issues, and homelessness.

Krista Selnau /
Equal Justice Works Fellowships Portfolio Manager

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow