Veterans Incarcerated and in the Justice System Committee Update January/February 2021

Dominick Yezzo, Veterans Incarcerated and in the Justice System Committee Chair

BY DOMINICK YEZZO, CHAIR

The New Year allows us to think through last year, to remember what we have done and what we failed to do, and to look ahead with the resolve to do good. There is a new administration in Washington, and I am impressed that the VVA Board of Directors Zoomed in early December with Joe Biden and his staff.

VVA President John Rowan and Rick Weidman, executive director for policy and government, are already known to Biden. I expect VVA will have good access to the new administration. We also will continue to work with members on Congress on both sides of the aisle. We owe allegiance only to veterans and their families.

This may be a smart time for VVA to lobby for the repeal of long-standing regulations that affect incarcerated veterans. This year our committee will attempt to end the regulation that denies incarcerated veterans with service-connected disabilities full compensation for their injuries.

A good soldier who served well and sustained an injury, in combat or otherwise, prior to incarceration and who was awarded a VA medical disability rating of 20-100 percent can receive only 10 percent of the monthly award. VINJUS believes that incarcerated veterans are entitled to full compensation for injuries sustained while on active duty. The events post-service that led to incarceration should not cause the denial of rightful compensation. Moreover, many are serving time because they suffer from PTSD or TBI, which are disabling results of war.

The government holds the position that an abundance of money to an inmate will cause that inmate to have unfair advantages while serving time. In truth, prisons, like the rest of the world, struggle with the good and the bad. There are drugs and weapons in jails, and some inmates and guards break institutional rules with impunity.

But veterans remain the exception. Statistics prove that veteran pods, veterans in separate housing, and veterans in chapter groups have few discipline problems. Moreover, the disability compensation money could be placed in a trust that a veteran would receive upon release. Those funds could be used for critical needs such as food, housing, clothing, and health insurance for a veteran and his or her family. It also could create hope for the inmate while waiting for the bright day of release.

We will work to end the argument that disability benefit money in the hands of inmates causes institutional disharmony. We answer with this: Let’s put it in the bank.


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