2020 Honoree Connecticut Veterans Legal Center
The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) started the United States’ first medical-legal partnership with federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2009. We work in interdisciplinary teams with mental health and medical clinicians to solve legal problems that affect veteran recovery. CVLC is the only medical-legal partnership to be co-located and staffed on a daily basis at a VA facility. To this end, CVLC provides free legal assistance to veterans who are in recovery from homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse to help them overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare and income. The CVLC’s vision is for all military veterans in CT to live with adequate means, safe and secure housing, and affordable health care.
CVLC grew out of the volunteer work of Margaret Middleton and Howard Udell. Howard first came to the VA Connecticut’s Errera Community Care Center in 2007 as a volunteer. The Errera Center is a nationally-recognized VA facility providing mental health, substance abuse, housing and employment assistance to indigent veterans. When veterans learned Howard was an attorney, they started asking him for advice about their legal troubles. Soon a line would form by the elevator on days when Howard was coming in. Before long Howard was assisting thirty veterans on his own; he was walking proof of the unmet legal needs of veterans rebuilding their lives.
In 2009, Howard joined with Margaret to incorporate CVLC with seed funding from the Yale Initiative for Public Interest Law. The mission of the organization was, and remains, to help veterans recovering from homelessness and serious mental illness overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare and income. CVLC now employs fourteen staff members.
To date, CVLC has served more than 4,700 veterans -- helping them to resolve destabilizing legal problems. In 2014, CVLC added the VA’s Newington Facility as a second program delivery location and in 2017 added the CT Department of Veteran’s Affairs as its third site. In April 2015, CVLC proudly accepted the VA’s National Community Partnership Award for its groundbreaking medical-legal partnership with the VA CT’s Errera Community Care Center. In 2017, CVLC was awarded the Community Partnership Award from the CT Psychological Association and the Pro Bono Partner award from Corporate Pro Bono Institute.
CVLC drafted and successfully lobbied for a state bill which grants veterans second chances to avoid jail and overcome mental health and substance abuse issues related to their service. In 2019, CVLC pro bono attorneys from Halloran & Sage were awarded the Hartford County Bar Association 2019 Pro Bono Award for their work with CVLC to provide pro bono representation to low-income veterans facing homelessness. And CVLC’s partnership with Sikorsky Aircraft and Teamsters Local 1150 was recognized with the 2019 Corporate Pro Bono Partner Award from the Pro Bono Institute. In 2020, CVLC launched its national policy initiative – The Veterans Inclusion Project – and will be publishing a legal practice manual on discharge upgrade cases in the near future.