The October Board of Directors meeting was interesting and challenging for the Veterans Incarcerated Committee. Membership Affairs proposed a policy change that required incarcerated chapters to adhere to the same standard as other chapters. Bill Meeks, the Chair, came to the VIC meeting and discussed the proposal. Because prison administrations are extremely wary about the money affairs of prisoners, the annual Elections Report is more easily obtained than the Financial Report. The Membership Affairs Committee withdrew the proposal.
However, the next day the VVA Officers and the Board of Directors overwhelmingly accepted Membership rules that upheld the revocation and termination of VVA chapters that fail to comply with the VVA Constitutional requirement of submitting annual Elections and Financial Reports. The Membership rules hold State Council Presidents responsible for ensuring compliance, with oversight by the Regional Directors. The State Council should document the difficulties the incarcerated chapters encounter in filing annual reports. The Regional Director then may request a waiver on behalf of the incarcerated chapter. Basically, this policy has accommodated the 47 incarcerated chapters in the past.
Committee members Allen Manuel and Richard DeLong attended the annual veterans ceremony at the Stiles Unit in Texas. Manuel said he might visit Chapter 190 at the Holman prison in Alabama. Tom Burke, the VIC Vice Chair, announced that the Buckeye State Council would be meeting at the North Central Correctional Institution on October 24. This was exciting news. Later, the chairs of the Homeless and Women Veteran Committees, Sandy Miller and Marsha Four, informed us that Pennsylvania State Council Meetings had been held at the maximum security Graterford State Correctional Center.
During the Government Affairs Committee meeting, each committee chair presented an oral report about activities and legislative goals. The new chair, Pat Welch, indicated that each committee should focus on two of its top legislative objectives for the final year of the 111th Congress. The Government Affairs Committee and the national staff would help bring committee priorities before the appropriate congressional committees. The VIC top legislative priority is the development of diversionary treatment alternatives for veterans encountering the criminal justice system. The next priority is advocating for reentry and transitional supportive services for veterans released from jail and prison.
After presenting the VIC report to the Board of Directors, Pat Welch, VVA President John Rowan, and I discussed two pending congressional bills. First is the SERV Act, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). The SERV Act seeks to encourage and fund the development of Veterans Courts modeled after the successful Buffalo, N.Y., court implemented by Judge Robert Russell. Welch and Judge Russell spoke before a congressional roundtable last month endorsing the SERV Act.
Another more broad-based approach for social justice for veterans has been a call to action by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), a Vietnam veteran, in S 714 The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009. This is a long-overdue examination of the justice system that has imprisoned almost 2.5 million people and annually arrests about 1.5 million veterans. Euphemistically, these are “justice-involved” veterans that the VA and DoD acknowledge as a growing concern, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan generate thousands of new war veterans.
At the conclusion of the October BOD meeting, John Rowan, Patrick Welch, and I discussed the goals and objectives of the Veterans Incarcerated Committee. In order to address the broad range of issues for veterans challenged by the justice system, Rowan supports renaming the VIC the Veterans Justice Committee. So, this will be the last VIC report in The Veteran. I assure the 1,900 incarcerated members that the Veterans Justice Committee will continue to advocate for imprisoned veterans. The committee name change simply reflects the larger goals of achieving justice for veterans encountering the criminal justice system and, as much as practical, seeking alternative strategies of treatment and diversion.