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Miami VA Healthcare System

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Incarcerated Veterans Get Needed Treatment

Veteran in Handcuffs

Veteran in Handcuffs

By By Marjorie Valdes, Public Affairs Specialist, Miami VA Healthcare System.
Friday, October 22, 2010

Every day in the news we hear of countless stories of returning Veterans who due to PTSD or other combat-related issues are involved with the legal system.
The Veteran Justice Outreach (VJO) is a Veterans Health Administration initiative that is spreading across the country, giving Veterans charged with a non-violent crime offenses a second chance to get their lives back on track.

Veterans are returning from war with PTSD, depression or other combat-related issues that can greatly affect day-to-day lives. Some of these men and women turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with the aftermath of combat and wind up in the criminal justice system.

Before this program, treatment was punitive. Now, Veterans with mental illness and substance abuse issues are receiving timely VA care.

The VJO partners with local law enforcement and courts to divert Veterans from jail. They are evaluated for housing, and helped with recovery during and after involvement in the legal system.

The VJO Specialist at the Miami VAHS visits the courts, jails, bond and felony pre-hearing twice a week in Dade County. As their staff increases they will be expanding their outreach efforts to Domestic and Mental Health court, to cover Dade, Broward and Monroe counties. Mr. Sullivan, Acting VJO Specialist stated, “Many Veterans in the legal system are not aware of the benefits that they are eligible for through the VA until we talk to them, and those that are aware have lost the connection to those services they so desperately need. These are the judicially involved Veterans, the Veteran Justice Outreach program targets.”

This program is voluntary and Veterans agree to participate in writing during the hearing and provide written consent to allow the VA to communicate with the court about their treatment and progress. VA’s treatment team and judge work closely together to keep the Veterans on track and on the road to recovery.
The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (2003) called for for mental health treatment to be available in communities so that mental health consumers no longer faced unemployement, homelessness, or incarceration because of untreated mental illness. A significant number of Veterans incarcerated in our Nation’s jails are at risk for homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness, and other diseases are eligible for VA services.

VHA National Center for PTSD reports that PTSD symptoms can indirectly lead to criminal behavior or through direct linkage of a traumatic incident to a specific crime. Historically, reports of Vietnam and post-Vietnam era Veterans with histories of civilian or military trauma suggest an association between trauma and subsequent contact with the legal system.

A 2008 RAND Corporation study found that nearly 20 percent of Service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan (300,000 at the time of the study) reported symptoms of PTSD or major depression, with only slightly more than half having sought treatment.


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