BY TERRY HUBERT, CHAIR
The May/June issue contained a letter to the editor about
the activities of the Veterans Incarcerated Committee (VIC).
The writer urged the committee to stop bringing “cookies” to
incarcerated veterans and get serious about the prosecution
of PTSD-afflicted veterans.
I can assure everyone that the
VIC does more than bring cookies to veterans incarcerated.
VIC is committed to helping veterans who find themselves
enmeshed in the criminal justice system. Our resolutions
and actions are broad and aimed at educating fellow veterans
and public officials about the difficulties associated
with PTSD issues that afflict veterans.
issues often bring veterans into contact with the police
and the courts. We know that there are some 800,000 new veterans
of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in America and, if the
conservative DoD/VA estimates are accurate, two of every
five suffer from PTSD symptoms.
Historical data reflect
that veteran incarceration rates rise after each conflict
dating back to the Civil War. Government statistics indicate
that our generation of incarcerated veterans peaked in the
mid-1980s at around 21 percent of state prisoners. The VIC
is encouraged that the VA and the nation as a whole seem
to have learned a harsh lesson about veterans returning from
an increasingly unpopular and seemingly endless war. PTSD
is now commonly acknowledged as a medically and legally accepted
diagnosis that can be used in mitigation for veterans involved
in the justice system.
PTSD is recognized because
of the commitment of VVA in general and our PTSD/Substance
Abuse Committee in particular. This recognition has led two
states, California and Minnesota, to enact sentencing mitigation
legislation for veterans, and we urge other states and the
federal government to adopt such an approach.
Similarly, the innovative Veterans Court
in Buffalo has gained national exposure for identifying and
diverting veterans from jail to treatment programs. This
specialty court emerged as a collaborative effort of the
Western New York Veterans Network and many Erie County social
service organizations, including VVA Board Member Pat Welch
and his colleagues at the Erie County Veterans Affairs Department.
This is a tremendous
advance for today’s veterans,
but comes, in some cases, too late to benefit our generation.
Our committee is well aware that there are Vietnam veterans
in prison who were sentenced without the benefit of having
a PTSD diagnosis offered in mitigation. Some states have
been adamant in not allowing PTSD as a mitigating factor
in post-conviction applications for clemency. VIC is very
concerned about older veterans, some of whom have served
more than thirty years and still see no light at the end
of the tunnel. We are, however, encouraged by the California
and Minnesota legislative initiatives regarding PTSD. We
also are encouraged that Congress and the VA are concerned
about this issue for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
people fail to appreciate the difficulty associated with
bringing anything into the secure environment of a prison.
On June 7, I brought 2,000 pounds of meat, 200 pounds of
charcoal, 100 cases of soda, potato salad, baked beans, and
pies to feed a thousand prisoners for VVA Chapter 719’s
Seventh Annual BBQ/Concert fundraiser at the Northern Nevada
Correctional Center. So it is with our heads held high that
we go into prisons to help veteran incarcerated programs.
Occasionally, yes, we bring in “cookies. ”