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july/august 2008

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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.

PTSD-related 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.

Many 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. ”

 

 

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