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march/april 2008

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Convention Resolutions Update

Wayne Miller presented three resolutions at the Convention in Springfield: VIN-1-95 Veterans in the Criminal Justice System; VIN-2-95 VVA Chapter and State Council Relationships with Veterans Incarcerated; and VIN-3-01 Veterans Incarcerated Benefits and Entitlement.

VIN-1-95, originally adopted thirteen years ago, had three components. First, it recognized that veterans coming into contact with the criminal justice system were abusing alcohol and controlled substances and engaging in self-destructive behaviors reflective of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It resolved that the American court systems recognize PTSD as a factor of mitigation at time of sentencing and, even more importantly, as a key factor for diversionary programs stressing rehabilitation and community service.

Second, veterans should have reasonable and appropriate access to benefits and services. This resolution called upon all local, state, and federal detention facilities to establish working relationships with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Finally, VIN-1-95 resolved that the Department of Justice, through the Bureau of Justice Statistics, enforce the mandate for the accurate identification and reporting of veterans encountered by criminal justice agencies.

VIN-2-95 concerns the support of incarcerated veteran organizations. Incarcerated Vietnam veterans use the common bond of military service to develop veterans’ service organizations within the prisons. These veterans’ organizations develop programs to benefit all prisoners and facilitate their rehabilitation. The development of prison veterans’ organizations can only occur with the support of staff and community-based veterans’ service organizations. Resolution VIN-2-95 resolves that VVA State Councils act to promote the development of incarcerated chapters and to facilitate and support the local chapters to provide direct support to our incarcerated veterans, and State Councils and chapters support veterans in their transition from prison or jail.

VIN-3-01 resolves that the VA is responsible for providing benefits to all veterans, including those involved with the justice system or incarcerated. Of particular concern are veterans benefits involving counseling and PTSD treatment, including residential and transitional services and programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

VIN-3-01 resolves that (1) The VA more aggressively provide medical treatment and counseling for veterans incarcerated with special emphasis on PTSD and other service-related disabilities; (2) The VA work closer with federal, state, and local correctional facilities to help veterans incarcerated achieve successful rehabilitation; and (3) The VA work more closely with the Department of Justice to ensure that reliable and verifiable methods exist to identify veterans involved with the justice system.

VIN-1-95 has served its original purpose. The courts recognize that PTSD is a psychiatric disorder and it is included in the DSM-IV Manual. The PTSD diagnosis may be used as a factor of mitigation at time of sentence. The other two components of this resolution remain current issues for the committee. However, these two issues are addressed and updated in VIN-1-01. It is recommended that VIN-1-95 be retired.

VIN-2-95 and VIN-1-01 remain viable.

While reviewing the 2007 Convention Resolutions, it became apparent that the veterans incarcerated resolutions are aligned with the resolutions from VVA’s Homeless and PTSD Committees. We are involved with veterans struggling with mental health, alcohol, and substance abuse, and such closely related issues as homelessness and marginality. Veterans with these issues often find themselves in contact with the justice system and need to be identified as quickly as possible. Alternative programs and treatment should be the focus.

The legislated enforcement funding policies of the last thirty years need serious reconsideration. The effort to address the social issues of addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, homelessness, poverty, and the cycle of under employment—all of which is closely related to racial and ethnicity inequalities—have primarily focused on enforcement and not prevention or treatment services. Law enforcement receives more than 80 percent of the funds available to treat common and daily social issues facing our own people.

The phenomenal growth of our imprisoned population must be seen as an indictment of these ineffective policies. The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that there are two million incarcerated people. Annually, our city and county detention facilities process 10-12 million predominantly poor people who are disproportionately from minority populations. The effectiveness of this enforcement strategy is challenged by the BJS. Despite our nation’s sustained effort over the last twenty years, BJS statistics show that more than 20 million Americans continue to use controlled substances on a regular basis.

We have to question our national and state legislators about the efficacy of strict enforcement policies. Do we realistically believe we can arrest and convict all 20 million-plus offenders? Can we afford to incarcerate an additional five or six million Americans? Do we really want to?

The Veterans Incarcerated Committee judges its success by bringing to light the plight of veterans caught up in the wide net cast by the police and court system. The committee counts its success when Congress passes new legislation addressing these social issues, such as The Second Chance Act of 2007. We count our success in being invited to speak before state legislatures about these issues. The committee is active in many states and interacts with local and national organizations that provide vital re-entry and rehabilitative services for veterans in the criminal justice system.

Committee members: Terry Hubert, Chair; Thomas Burke, Allen Manuel; Special Advisers: Matt Davison, Wayne Miller; Staff Liaison: Elaine Chaney.



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