BY DOMINICK YEZZO, CHAIR
There are some 181,000 veterans incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United States. Veterans make up about 8 percent of all those imprisoned in federal and state facilities. More than 65 percent of them saw combat, and about 55 percent of those who saw combat struggle with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.
Veterans incarcerated are more likely to be a bit older than other incarcerated persons, and they have fewer prior convictions, but the crimes veterans are convicted of tend to be violent. Fifty percent of incarcerated veterans are white males. Veterans who are housed together are thought of as model inmates. Many Vietnam veteran inmates become institutional leaders in work-study programs, for-profit-then-donation businesses, community service, innovation in the arts, and machine tasks.
The number of veterans facing the justice system is down. The number of veterans incarcerated in federal, state, and local institutions also is down. If statistics can make us happy, then let’s be happy about these. We can proudly say that because of Vietnam Veterans of America’s services, fewer veterans are imprisoned today.
Veteran Treatment Courts, the Getting Ahead while Getting Out program, and VVA’s advancement of public awareness of the wounds of war have saved veterans one by one. Of course, there have also been troop reductions, and significantly fewer veterans coming home. Moreover, veterans returning from deployment are smarter, have finer military skills, and are better educated and better skilled than ever before. Plus, they are likely to seek help before making the bad choice of committing a crime.
The committee has begun a study to determine why service-connected disability benefits are reduced while a veteran is incarcerated. As of today, veterans rated at 20 percent disabled or more are limited to a 10 percent disability rate if the veteran is convicted of a felony and imprisoned for more than 60 days.
The VVA position is that veterans’ compensation benefits are awarded for service-connected injuries: combat wounds, PTSD, TBI, friendly-fire explosions, toxic burn pits, helicopter crashes, broken bones, and so on. Therefore, awarded benefits belong to the veteran or the veteran’s family.
We are gathering information. We are studying arguments, pro and con. We plan to lobby Congress to get the House and Senate to take action.