Help for Our “Troubled” Veterans

This Veteran’s Day may not be so special for a group of veterans – those incarcerated in our federal and state prisons. Do you know a veteran who took a wrong step or maybe the legal system went awry? According to 2007 statistics there were 140,000 veterans in prison (federal and state) and most had honorable discharges from their military service. (National Coalition of Homeless Veterans)

Facing similar situations as our homeless veteran population with mental illness, addictions and reintegration issues they are frequently forgotten members of our society.

A friend who served time at Ft Leavenworth’ US Disciplinary Barracks is still a strong emotional memory. A subordinate imprisoned there and then released after being found innocent upon appeal/review is the worst feeling. So when I drove past “The Castle” a few years back during a trip to the post, I had this awful chill run down my back. Thoughts went back to this honorably serving man with a chest full of decorations who stepped over the boundaries and legal requirements of being a leader and paid the price. I could not imagine his pain of being locked in that place. Or worse, how about the innocent man who served a couple of years before being released?  The Castle was tore down in 2005 and replaced by a modern prison facility on the post.

Certainly there are plenty of veterans who deserve to be incarcerated for crimes they committed and need to be rehabilitated so they can contribute to society. Usually more educated and older than the prison population, veterans who served all of us may be waiting for care that would allow them to be released under parole. Speaking with a son, who serves a state prison population as a psychologist, the prisons do not have a specific program to help veterans. Relying on outside help from Veteran Affairs/Department of Labor in the form of grants (which are not approved very often) for specific veteran care, the veterans languish waiting “their turn” for care that would give them points for parole.

But why start in the prisons? A new approach which would seem to be appropriate nation wide is the formation of veteran courts! Advocates address the issues of social reintegration, combat stress, mental illness and addictions and seek treatment versus imprisonment for our veterans. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals supports Justice for Vets with an approach similar to drug courts but connecting the courts with VA health providers to assist in treatment plans. The American Legion passed a resolution in support for Veterans Treatment Courts at the 93rd American Legion National Convention in August this year. Resolution 109 seeks congressional action for funding Veteran Treatment Courts and VA action to establish a central office to manage the Veterans Outreach Justice program. The Legion resolution also includes volunteers from local posts to assist the courts with finding veteran resources including VA benefits and services.  Other veteran organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars have also been advocates for our imprisoned veterans.  While the US faces an unprecedented fiscal challenge, veteran programs need to receive priority from our elected officials. 

As we approach Veterans Day, be sure to say thank you to a veteran and remember those veterans who served as well but need help to become a productive part of society. They served you and deserve your support! 

Photo Credits:

USDB Ft Leavenworth Images

A Soldier checks cells on one of the six tiers inside the old U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Oct 19, 2011 Images byColonel KonFriday, October 21, 2011Military Life:,,,

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