For National Reentry Week, VA renews its commitment to serving justice-involved Veterans

Helping Veterans reenter society is something we do every day


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Each year, more than 600,000 Americans return to their communities after serving time in state and federal prisons, and more than 11 million pass through local jails. In recognition of the critical role the reentry experience plays in these individuals’ efforts to reintegrate and thrive after incarceration, the U.S. Department of Justice has designated April 24-30 as National Reentry Week.

The Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will be holding reentry events nationwide, as Attorney General Loretta Lynch noted in a recent blog post.

VA will mark National Reentry Week by partnering with federal, state and local criminal justice partners across the country to reach Veterans involved with the justice system, and help them access the VA health care and other services that can increase the likelihood of a successful reentry. VA medical center staff will participate in 120 events held at Bureau of Prisons facilities, as well as events at state prisons, local jails, local courts, VA medical centers and US Attorneys’ offices.

These events include roundtable discussions between law enforcement officers and offenders, as well as job fairs and mock interview programs, which help to address the real needs of individuals reentering their communities after incarceration.

Although National Reentry Week is an outstanding opportunity to highlight the issues surrounding reentry, VA’s commitment to serving justice-involved Veterans is longstanding, and it’s something we act on every day.

Two specialized programs at VA

VA has a deep commitment to Veterans who are incarcerated, and partners with jails, prisons and courts to ensure Veterans who reenter the community have resources available to support their successful return. Even though recent national information has shown that both the rate and number of Veterans incarcerated has declined over time, VA maintains this commitment through two specialized programs: Health Care for Reentry Veterans (HCRV) and Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO).

HCRV specialists provide outreach to Veterans approaching release from state and Federal prisons. They briefly assess reentry Veterans’ probable treatment needs, help them plan to access responsive services upon release, and provide post-release follow-up as needed to ensure Veterans are engaged with needed services.  Nationally, HCRV Specialists conduct outreach in 998 state and federal prisons, and have served over 73,000 reentry Veterans since 2007.

VJO specialists serve Veterans at earlier stages of the criminal justice process, with a three-pronged focus on outreach to community law enforcement, jails and courts. At every VA medical center, VJO specialists work with Veterans in the local criminal courts (including but not limited to the Veterans Treatment Courts, or VTCs), conduct outreach in local jails, and engage with local law enforcement by delivering VA-focused training sessions and other informational presentations.

VJO specialists work in more than 350 VTCs and other Veteran-focused court programs and conduct outreach in 1,284 local jails. They have served more than 125,000 justice-involved Veterans since 2009.

Programs helping Veterans access services

Veterans seen by VJO and HCRV staff have mental health and substance use disorders at rates much higher than those seen elsewhere in the VA health care system. Fortunately, the programs are highly effective at their core task:  linking justice-involved Veterans to needed treatment.  Veterans who are seen by VJO specialists access VA mental health and substance use treatment at high rates (97 and 72 percent, respectively), and remain engaged with treatment over time.  Veterans seen by HCRV specialists also access VA mental health and substance use care at high rates.  About 75 percent of Veterans seen by a VJO specialist access VA primary care services within one year, averaging five visits during that time.

The work of both of VA’s Veterans justice programs is uniquely dependent on partnerships with criminal justice agencies in the communities we serve. Unlike other community-facing VA outreach programs, the HCRV and VJO programs’ core functions are performed in controlled environments to which VA has no right of access.  Without a partnership with the sheriff’s department, for example, a VJO specialist could not access a local jail to conduct outreach.  National Reentry Week is the perfect occasion to express VA’s gratitude to these partners, without whom we could not effectively serve justice-involved Veterans.

The first step to reaching justice-involved Veterans – and a challenge shared by VA and its partners – is identifying them among larger criminal justice populations. To improve the identification of Veterans in criminal justice settings, VA developed the Veterans Reentry Search Service (VRSS), a Web-based tool that allows prison and jail staff to quickly identify inmates with a record of military service.  Because VRSS also alerts VA staff when these inmates are identified, it is a valuable tool for conducting outreach to Veterans who need assistance planning for a successful reentry.

One VRSS user, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), had previously determined that 2.7 percent of its inmates were Veterans. When CDCR first checked its inmate data against VRSS, it found that the actual figure was 7.7 percent.  That gap represented approximately 5,000 Veteran inmates who would otherwise have been unknown to both CDCR and VA.  The Veterans Justice Programs’ partnerships with CDCR and more than 200 other systems now using VRSS help ensure that Veteran inmates are identified and have access to reentry planning assistance, increasing the odds of a successful transition back to their communities.

VA is proud to join criminal justice agencies and communities nationwide to mark National Reentry Week. To learn more about the Veterans Justice Programs and the work they do every day to help justice-involved Veterans access VA health care and other services, please visit http://www.va.gov/homeless/reentry.asp (HCRV), and http://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/VJO.asp (VJO).


About the Authors:

Jessica Blue-Howells, MSW – is National Coordinator, Healthcare for Reentry Veterans (HCRV) Program, and National Program Manager, CHALENG (Community Homeless Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups) for Veterans at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration. In her role with HCRV, Jessica oversees VA’s national prison outreach effort, which has contacted over 72,000 Veterans in approximately 1,000 U.S. state and Federal prisons.  In her role with CHALENG, Jessica oversees national input from over 10,000 Veterans and homeless service providers annually about needs among homeless Veterans and coordinates data analysis and reporting to help communities identify unmet needs. 

Sean Clark, J.D. – is the National Coordinator for Veterans Justice Outreach in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration. The Veterans Justice Outreach program provides outreach and linkage to VA services for Veterans involved with the “front end” of the criminal justice system (police, courts, and jails).  As a component of VA’s effort to end homelessness among Veterans, the VJO program’s primary goal is preventing justice-involved Veterans from becoming homeless.  Since the program’s launch in 2009, VJO field staff have served more than 120,000 justice-involved Veterans through outreach in jail and court settings. 

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. rhonda ann-michelle stephens    

    I really don’t know where to begin. I guess I could start with getting beat weekly, fud daily, and nothing done. Dual military and no amount of bruising moves his section chief to do anything. walked thru three dozen restraining orders, the STDs were nice, he was generous to the point I had to have part of my cervix frozen and removed. he spoke of nothing when it came to the women…idc cuz when he was gone I wasn’t beaten. But, hey,it’s cool to be under armed guard while pregnant. until I decided to not kill him, I would just do what he done for the length of our careers and step out. the plan was to come back stateside and sign in…but my commander thought it quite reasonable to send the non-family member state side to grab the kid, not send the actual family member, but hey Cpt J said he knew about us women that said they got hit a lot. Gave him numbers, need not speak of the third week of being in country and catch hubby with a German national entwined, Joe did however explain. No, let a woman have enough, pick a ugly dude to sleep with and BAM! The two Sgts that are stepping out with Nationals, they’re not going to draw attention. But I was arrested, by MPs, at my apartment on the economy and paraded like a common whore. I lost my clothing, jewelry, ever gift given, and oh yeah, my DAUGHTER. I was promptly pulled in barracks, he free to continue DUIs running the gate, he even got my Article 15 from my commander….Top wouldn’t let him have it. Something about privacy act….he promptly flew state side and I found that I was divorced about two weeks after he moved with my baby girl….my child that was ripped from me. She hated me when she once again saw me, she was eleven and I had finally found her. I still pay him 18.00 towards his alimony. But my daughter would grow up and become a MP and enlighten me as to so much was wronged me. I have a realationship with her, she’s my hero. She has told of ever witnessed beating her dad dished the fairer of the sexes. But that’s ok….PTSD>BI POLAR>Majordepression>JAG’s hands were tied when I started my fight back, afterall, they don’t get involved in CIVIL FAMILY COURT THINGS

  2. Luis F. Lora-Sigollen    

    I am a disable Viet Nam Era veteran I love the idea of helping veterans that have problems with the law and many had serve time in jails and prisons. I have an honorable discharge I was deported from the USA. after living there for about 40 years my children were born there and about all my family live there. Please fight against this injustice to veterans that served and gave their life so americans live in freedom. Let congress read this. We veterans are not all perfect we are human and make mistakes. Thanks

  3. gonzalo gonzalez    

    I was recently released from a immigration detention center out of San Antonio and after having my federal criminal case dismissed. I went on to fight in my deportación @ lower courts in Pearsall,Texas and judge stopped deportación allmyVa records helped. Well Homeland appealed and won now i am in México with no medical services or monies to help me live in a country i left as a child.I have connected with Texas veterans for commission for assistance.

  4. Mabel Dilley    

    Your title page is very misleading. “Helping veterans reenter society is something we do everyday” should read “helping veterans avoid serving time for crimes they have committed, especially against those they profess to love”.

    Everyday we are hearing how veterans are “committing suicide at an alarming rate”. Why do we not hear about the assaults and murders they eventually commit?

    Why do we only see that efforts to help spouses, significant others, families etc. only really state how the “loved ones” of these veterans can learn how to “understand and support the vet”?
    We see very little or next to nothing about how the VA really helps these family members when gross misconduct of the vet puts families in harms way.

    Why is it that when joint counseling has been participated in and fails miserably and the spouse needs proof of said “treatment” to protect them self and children, the request of only dates of treatment for the spouse alone is rejected as a HIPAA violation of the VETERANS medical record and the abused spouse must get permission from the ABUSIVE VET to obtain just the dates, no treatment plan or notes were requested, just dates to prove that they did everything possible to save the marriage and help “veteran”.

    The VA has ultimately encouraged this veteran to continue not only to harm my daughter by emotional and mental abuse but protected him during and after the abuses.

    All is recorded and can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    You are putting very dangerous people back into a position so that they have access again to harm people who deserve to be protected from your veterans. They are incarcerated for a reason.

    The VA “outreach programs are responsible for the deaths and/or harm of innocent individuals who also served this country by standing by said veterans and doing all they could to help them.

    Since when are military agencies allowed to become involved in and overrule civil matters and legal processes?

    You are severely failing to protect the victims of crime inflicted upon them by these veterans. You are placing them once more within reach of their abusers basically overriding the civil rights of those who were once afforded protection from these people. You are placing the “rights” of an abusive vet over the rights of victims to freedom from these people.

    I am a former spouse of a Special Operator with 20 years of marriage to him and “the mission”. The reason I am no longer with him is not duty or military related. I know first hand how spouses and families support military life, however, when it comes to the safety and peace of mind on the “Homefront” that is where the line is drawn. No veteran, highly decorated or not, has the right to be placed in a position that elevates them above anyone else, especially when it involves the right to safety and wellbeing of others!

    VA healthcare is on the firing line for being basically nonexistent, yet massive amounts of funding are going into this program that seeks to and succeeds in circumventing and overriding civil law!

    Feel free to contact for further information.

  5. Jo    

    My ex husband is a veteran who is extremely abusive. It got worse when I tried to leave. It got to the point that loaded weapons were used in his violence against me and I have had the air crushed out of me several times. I have had my head and then my neck slammed in our front door as I tried to escape him. I was slammed into walls and backhanded. I was drug from my bed by my ankles. I have been run off the road in my truck by him, he used his vehicle to force me off the road. When I was 6 months pregnant he told me to shoot myself in the head. When I was 8 months pregnant he locked me in a speeding vehicle and drove over 100 up the freeway veering in and out of traffic. Threats to kidnap our newborn started the day after he was born. At home, he threatened harm our six week old son and he went so far as to hold him upside down causing him to vomit, all the while taunting me. He’d threaten to cut all the safety straps from his furniture and would scream at me while I cradled our then almost 2 month old in my arms. I got a restraining order and left him.

    I have his admissions of abuse and his threats recorded on tape.

    He violated that restraining order repeatedly, ran from police and then hid a gun in the desert, he resisted arrest and challenged police to shoot him (at that time that was the second time he’d hidden a gun from police while running from them). When he was finally arrested, he went to jail and was released on probation – he was supposed to report to the residential program at the VA but did not. According to him, they rejected him for his out of control behavior.

    He was arrested again 3 months later for threatening to harm my family, he threatened to kidnap our 8 month old son and take him to Juarez, and threatened to cause police shoot outs where I lived with my son. I had to call 911. He attacked and hurt the officer who arrested him. That was his first probation violation. I have everything in recorded phone calls.

    Instead of going to jail he went to the VAH, where he continued to contact me via phone and violated multiple protective orders by threatening physical harm to myself and my family. Some of his violations were done with the assistance of staff providing him with access to phones. When I reported that he was doing these things the VA refused to honor and enforce the protective orders, they refused to press charges against him. In court the VA sent documentation to the defense attorney and court praising his improvement, all the while he continued to violate multiple protective orders and the VA did less than nothing about it.

    I have the VA police telling me that my restraining order was no good on VA property recorded in a taped phone call. In fact, this is absolutely not the case. I also have them tape recorded as refusing to honor his arrest warrant for 2 violent felony counts.

    VA staff signed a petition to try to have my protective order revoked. Let me remind you, I have an infant son I am trying to protect from proven domestic violence. This is incredibly dangerous and unethical on the part of VA staff.

    Ultimately the U.S. Marshal entered the VA rehab and took my ex husband into custody because the VA refused to honor the arrest warrant issued for him. He spent three months in jail and was found not competent, a stark contrast and incongruent finding to what the VA had reported as progress. He was released back to this VA program that had clearly not worked. That was his second probation violation. There would have been more, but again, the VA refused to honor protective orders.

    He has been at this particular VA facility for over a year, in a program that he can leave the campus from sun up to sun down.

    Circumventing the law, horrendous VA policies and biased staff get families of veterans killed. Furthermore, your lack of support for the victims of this kind of violence is inexcusable.

    Please feel free to contact me for more information. My father and step father are both war vets, NOT abusers and are horrified at what the VA is doing.

  6. d. dahlstrom    

    tried to volunteer to drive for V. A. but got a reply for a colonospty .

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