Veterans Legal Services: stable housing, economic security, and healthy families for our veterans

VLS promotes financial security of low-income military veterans through free mobile/on-site legal representation and education.

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Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Massachusetts: Boston (02108), Bedford (01730), Chelsea (02150), Dedham (02026)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Children & Youth
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Human Rights & Equality

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)


  • $500k - $1m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL @VetsLegal

Facebook URL @Vetslegal

LinkedIn URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

Veterans Legal Services was founded when a group of Boston College law students discovered that the legal needs of Boston's low-income veterans were going wholly unmet. They joined together with mentors to provide free legal help on-site at a homeless shelter, where veterans were already accessing other supportive services. Their goal was to remove legal barriers, many of which resulted from the veterans' military service, and promote their stable housing, economic security, and healthy families.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Veterans are at an increased risk for homelessness. For every homeless person you see on the street, there is an approximately 1 in 4 chance that person has served our country, even though veterans make up only about 8 percent of the population. The lasting physical, mental, and financial impact of military service often results in legal problems. VLS provides free legal help, removing barriers to economic security and dignified living.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

VLS will provide free mobile legal clinics and financial literacy sessions to veterans at sites in the community. VLS will provide on-the-spot counsel and advice and full representation to veterans struggling with income and benefits (e.g. employment problems, VA service-connected disability, Massachusetts needs-based benefits, establishing/enforcing child support or spousal support payments, etc.); managing debt (e.g. consumer debt, bankruptcy, credit problems, state and federal tax, and child support arrears, housing costs); and family problems (e.g. adjusting child support or spousal support to be commensurate with income, ensuring that the veteran is afforded the opportunity to play an active role in his or her children's lives). Current clinic sites: New England Center & Home for Veterans, Chelsea Soldiers' Home, Norfolk County Veterans Treatment Court, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital (Bedford VA Medical Center), Greater Boston Stand Down, and veterans fairs/expos throughout Greater Boston. In total, VLS will service over 700 veterans' cases during the course of the year, helping them achieve financial security and hope for a better future.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

David, a disabled U.S. Army veteran, came to VLS because he had fallen behind on child support payments. His car was soon to be repossessed. In the prior 4 months, David had lost his marriage, apartment, job, and--most devastatingly--contact with his son. He was in treatment for substance abuse but was overwhelmed with his legal problems. David came to a VLS clinic. VLS attorney Eve Elliott helped David get his service-connected disability income and he was able to start paying child support arrears. Eve helped him establish parenting time with his son. David’s relationship with his ex-wife improved, and he found an apartment down the street from his son, whom he now sees regularly. When asked what might have happened if he hadn’t found VLS, David said: “I don't even want to think about it, I'm afraid to think about it. [Attorney Elliott] got my son back in my life.”

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

VLS serves low-income veterans in Massachusetts and is often the ONLY source of legal assistance for veterans like David, above. The majority of legal aid organizations prioritize custodial parents for services, which is less likely to be the veteran who may deploy. VLS serves veterans and prioritizes the disabled, survivors of domestic violence or military sexual trauma, LGBTQ vets, and cases where legal representation will have a significant positive impact for the veteran and his/her family.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • illness
  • geography
  • immigration status
  • work status
  • race/ethnicity
  • sexual orientation
  • gender
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

VLS is the only independent legal aid organization in Massachusetts whose mission is to serve veterans and it offers assistance on a broad array of legal issues. The Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School, a clinical educational program, does provide services to veterans in limited subject areas, with some overlap with VLS in the areas of veterans’ benefits cases and discharge upgrades. However, VLS collaborates with Harvard and jointly we do not meet all of the existing need. Additionally, VLS serves veterans in subject areas that the Harvard clinic does not, such as debt and family law.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

VLS has been servicing 500-700 veterans' cases per year for the past few years. VLS is able to service this relatively large volume of veterans due to its innovative mobile/on-site clinic model and through VLS's partnership with approximately 200 volunteer lawyers from Boston area firms. In 2015, VLS began hosting clinics at the Bedford VA Medical Center and through collaboration with the Bedford VA staff and volunteer legal experts, VLS began hosting educational sessions for veterans and their service providers with a strong focus on financial literacy. The legal experts then film videos summarizing the content of their presentations, which are shared on VLS's website and via Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, with the goal of reaching even more veterans and their advocates. Available for view here:

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

VLS has a scalable program that is currently delivered at 4 primary sites to ensure accessibility of services. VLS staff leads the clinics, where law students and volunteer attorneys meet with veterans, conduct intake/case assessment, provide legal advice, and plan next steps. Intake information is collected either via a paper form or a form application on an iPad, use of which is currently in a pilot stage. The iPads are then synched with Salesforce (new for VLS), where case management activities are conducted. These foundational items have been put into place to allow for smart growth.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Organizing Conferences
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Other

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

VLS’s revenue is approximately 75% grants (mostly family foundations) and 25% gala proceeds. VLS’s current funding sources are speculative, but VLS has been achieving its goals. However, this fundraising model poses a greater risk now that VLS’s budget has grown from ~$220,000 to ~$800,000. In May 2016, VLS received a $250,000 grant from the Col. Ruby Linn Foundation to establish an endowment. The endowment is now valued at approximately $700,000 and increases sustainability.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

VLS’s co-director model has proven very effective. Anna is focused on programs and client representation/results, and Sarah is focused on organizational capacity, development, and board/committees. Each co-director has worked for VLS since 2008 and worked as a staff attorney prior to promotion to co-director. VLS has quadrupled in size since their promotion and now has 6 FT and 2 PT staff members. Future growth will be informed by VLS's participation as a Social Venture Partners Boston Grantee.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Ashoka page or contact
  • Other

If you replied "Other" in the question above, please specify. (optional)

VLS is a Social Venture Parters Boston Grantee and learned of this via Darcy Brownell and Marc Carr.

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 66.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 50%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 50%

Impact measurement - 50%

Impact Potential - 50%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 0%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 33.3%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 66.7%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 33.3%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 100%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Brittany Corner

Great Work! We at PYT funds are a veteran owned company