BY DOMINICK YEZZO, CHAIR
Gabriel sang a song for us. Gabriel is not an angel. He is a veteran incarcerated at the newly created Veterans Dormitory at Rikers Island in New York City. No one asked Gabriel to sing, but I expect that he felt comfortable enough in his new home to be himself. His song made the ward happy. Three other veterans joined in a harmony. We visited with the men without restriction while Gabriel sang a capella.
We were guests of Dr. Nicole Flores-Adams, Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections. We were administrative observers at the April 12 press conference and ribbon cutting. There were about ten of us, including Dr. Loree Sutton, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Veterans Services, and her staff, including newly appointed veteran correction officers. There are some twenty veterans in the brand-new dormitory. These men self-identified as veterans from a population greater than 8,500 incarcerated men and women.
The committee reported to the BOD at its April meeting. We function from a set of action items: service to veterans incarcerated; service and advocacy for Veterans Treatment Courts; serving veterans in preparation for release and thereafter (“Getting Ahead While Getting Out”); and joining veterans before Veterans Treatment Courts with veterans incarcerated—a great resource because they understand how a bad decision affects a life. This work is enormous because it is national in scope. The platform stands on PTSD and TBI, but we are in service to all veterans in the system.
VINJS will conduct a seminar on July 26 at the Leadership & Education Conference in Palm Springs. We plan to present a primer of our work at the seminar. We invite everyone to attend. We have started a national conversation we’d like you to join.
VINJIS Secretary Raymond Pawlicki is preparing veteran inmates for release and serving veterans subsequent to release. The goal is to ensure successful lives in the community through a mentor program. He is working in partnership with the St. Vincent DePaul Society and the VVA Florida State Council. I plan to start a similar program at Rikers Island. VINJS plans to train mentors to drive the “Getting Ahead While Getting Out” program as a national model.
Bernie Edelman, our staff liaison, reported that there are presently 461 Veterans Treatment Courts in the United States. I am happy to announce that the number of these courts has more than doubled in less than two years.
Finally, the committee addressed the future of our agenda as it follows the shape of the future of VVA. VINJS believes it is viable and proper for VVA, including VINJS and all committees, to continue as we age. We believe it is viable to attract young leaders from post-Vietnam wars to carry our legacy forward.