By T.P. Hubert, Chair
The Veterans Incarcerated Committee has a lot on its plate. We are glad to report that incarcerated veteran issues are finally gaining national attention. As a new generation of veterans emerges, nearly three-fourths of a million are afflicted with PTSD or TBI or are suffering from paranoid veteran syndrome, also known as pissed-off veteran syndrome (PVS). This almost unfairly leads to encounters with the justice system. PVS is further exacerbated by alcohol and other drug abuse.
Vietnam veterans have 40 years of experience with the justice system. So we really should not be surprised by the attention on veterans and the criminal justice system. We are uniquely situated to provide insight on how not to do it. There are more than a half million Vietnam-era veterans who have been convicted of drug-related offenses along with those convicted of more serious offenses because of undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. Although it’s a little too late for us, we are encouraged by today’s emphasis on diversion and treatment instead of the conviction-and-incarceration approach we encountered.
VVA national staff received an invitation from the National Commission of Correctional Health Care to submit a presentation proposal for the Updates in Correctional Health Care conference to be held April 4-7 in Las Vegas. The NCCHC was seeking innovative prison mental health programs for presentations at its annual meeting and for publication in the Journal of Correctional Health Care.
One emerging issue in corrections is the plight of geriatric prisoners. Prisoners over 60 are now the fastest growing segment of the prison population, presenting unique issues for prison administrators. According to census figures, 62 percent of Vietnam veterans are now over the age of 60.
Chapter 719 at the Northern Nevada Corrections Center has a close relationship with a very successful, innovative prison geriatric program, True Grit, a structured-living program supervised by Mary Harrison, a prison psychologist. Mary, her husband, Will, and I will present “True Grit: a Humanistic Living Program for a Geriatric Population.”
VIC is excited about the introduction of HR 7149, which would provide grants to establish veterans’ treatment courts. HR 7149, also known as the Services, Education, and Rehabilitation for Veterans Act, or the SERV Act, will be administered by the Department of Justice through grants to public or private entities for the purpose of developing, implementing, or enhancing veterans’ treatment courts or expanding operational drug courts to serve veterans. Essentially, this House Bill has been modeled after the very successful Buffalo, N.Y., Veterans Court program.
Thanksgiving week brought even better news. Guy Gambill, of a Minneapolis sentencing coalition, sent me a copy of the progressive veteran sentencing legislation recently enacted there. The Minnesota Model should encourage other states to identify veterans and the unique issues they have as soon they encounter the police and prior to sentencing by the courts.
The Veterans Initiative Center and Research Institute is forming a national coalition to bring these justice-challenged veterans issues before Congress. The coalition plans include a “Day on the Hill” rally for families and friends of veterans incarcerated. The VIC will discuss how we can participate and support this coalition and be a voice for progressive and humanistic legislation for veterans.