Recent news events have led me to reflect on how the legal aid community, broadly defined, needs to be ready to help when crisis hits. While the ultimate outcome of events in Iraq remains uncertain, it is all too possible that we may soon be faced with the moral necessity of absorbing a wave of refugees who have been displaced by events, and who are at high risk because of the roles they played helping the US.
Similarly, the recently uncovered scandals at the Veterans Administration have focused the country on the need for resources to make that system work.
In both cases the legal aid community, broadly defined, has a major role to play. Put simply, refugees and veterans need advocates and helpers, that’s what the different community and court components of legal aid can provide.
We need to be ahead of this game, with a planning infrastructure. In the end, it is not about money, but it is not a good symptom that the legal aid role in the VA crisis has been largely absent from the public dialog, and that there is no legal aid component in the emergency VA funding that now has bi-partisan support. Have any state commissions moved to be involved? Are they structured to respond quickly? Have we broadened and institutionalized our response to weather disasters to other kinds?
All too often the failure to legal aid to be involved is blamed on lack of resources. It is my belief, however, that generally people give you money because of what you do, or are ready to do, not because you refuse to act without funding.
Another argument for better coordination at all levels.