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VHA Community Partnership Challenge

Community Partnership Challenge series: How Medical-Legal Partnerships can improve social determinants of health

This is the third in a series of articles about how various VA and VHA offices, initiatives, and programs support social determinants of health—the theme of the VHA 2020 Community Partnership Challenge. The third Community Partnership Challenge series feature: Medical-Legal Partnerships. You can read the first and second articles in the series here.

VA Medical-Legal Partnerships (MLPs) combine health care intervention with legal resources to improve positive outcomes for Veterans. In this collaborative effort, legal providers are co-located with VA health care teams to address unmet legal needs such as child custody, guardianship or elder law, and landlord-tenant disputes.

Through MLPs, Veterans’ access to positive social determinants of health—such as housing, transportation, and education about VA services—can be supported. Social determinants of health (SDOH) are conditions in the environments in which Veterans live, learn, work, play, worship, and age.

Fanita Jackson-Norman, a member of VA’s MLP Taskforce, provided a few examples of how MLPs can assist Veterans. These include:

  • Veterans receiving help with avoiding eviction, by attorneys utilizing tenant protection laws, so that Veterans have access to safe and stable housing.
  • Veterans working with an attorney on drivers’ license suspension or revocation in order to have transportation and a valid address to use to get to employment and/or obtain any public benefits.
  • Veterans requesting assistance with military discharge upgrades, which can allow access to VA health care and other benefits..

In a study published in November 2019 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, legal problems (considered a negative SDOH) significantly increased the odds of Veterans’ suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, even after adjusting for mental health diagnoses. The study concluded that negative SDOH are as relevant as medical factors (such as depression) for suicide prevention and treatment.

Positive SDOH such as housing, transportation, and employment, are critical to Veterans’ health and thus are also the theme of this year’s VHA Community Partnership Challenge, an annual contest hosted by VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) that highlights nonmonetary, community-level partnerships between VHA and nongovernmental organizations that serve Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. The SDOH that are the focus of this year’s Challenge are: employment, food security, housing, spiritual support, and transportation. When Veterans have access to positive SDOH such as these, they lead healthier lives.


Ms. Jackson-Norman also pointed to a 2017 article in the Health Affairs Journal that studied four VA Medical-Legal Partnership sites, which concluded: “Veterans who received more partnership services showed greater improvement in housing and mental health than those who received fewer services, and those who achieved their predefined legal goals showed greater improvements in housing status and community integration than those who did not.”

Ms. Jackson-Norman also spoke to the importance of the collaborative aspect of MLPs.

“If you think of the dollar value that pro-bono attorneys and legal organizations are donating into VA medical centers each year, these are critical resources that would not have been provided otherwise,” she said.

For more on how MLPs help Veterans, please visit:

For more information on OCE’s work or to contact OCE for partnership opportunities, please visit:

External Link Disclaimer: This page contains links that will take you outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs website. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked websites.

Posted April 9, 2020