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September/october 2009

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The 14th VVA National Convention in Louisville was exciting and productive for everyone involved with incarcerated veterans. The VIC Resolutions Committee meeting was full, with more than thirty attending. Quite a few, like myself, were delegates representing incarcerated chapters. The discussion of VIN Resolutions clearly confirmed VVA’s continued support for veterans confined in our jails and prisons.
VIN-1-95 was unanimously endorsed and remains viable for our national membership. VIN-2-95 remains viable, but needs slight revision at the next Convention. Those in attendance adopted the modification suggested by former VIC chair John Koprowski. VIN-3-01 stimulated much discussion, and many letters from incarcerated veterans dealing with health issues from service-connected disabilities were presented. VIN-3-01 remains viable for VVA.
New York delegates Gordie Lane and Peter Bronstad gave an impressive presentation on the Onondaga County Veterans Diversion Program, a collaborative effort by Central New York VVA Chapter 103, the Onondaga Court and Sheriff’s Office, the Syracuse Police, and the VA. This alternative, treatment-oriented program is modeled after the Buffalo Veterans Court. Lane and Brostad are retired police officers.
VVA President John Rowan reappointed me as VIC Chair. Tom Burke, who was elected as an At-Large Director, will remain the Vice Chair. VIC committee members Allen Manuel and Tom Meinhardt were re-elected as Regional Directors and Larry Frazee is the new National Treasurer. Burke and Frazee attended the Region 8 and 9 Preconvention Meeting in Reno. Along with the Nevada State Council, they met with incarcerated Chapter 719 at NNCC and visited VVA Chapter 545 at Nevada State Prison.
Convention week was a great opportunity to meet and interact with advocates and supporters of incarcerated chapters. The large turnout for the VIC meeting was unanticipated and greatly appreciated. The work of developing and supporting incarcerated veterans programs continues. The VIC meeting and the Convention camaraderie permitted the exchange of information and created dialogue among those directly involved with incarcerated veteran programs. The Convention reaffirmed VVA’s commitment to veterans in prison and veterans encountering the justice system. 
The Louisville Convention provided several opportunities for me to discuss incarcerated and justice-challenged veterans issues with some important and influential people. I am always amazed by the diversity of experiences and accomplishments of Vietnam veterans.
Disembarking from my flight upon arrival, I was greeted by Mokie Porter, who was there to escort Gen. Russel Honoré, the Keynote speaker for the Opening ceremonies. Friday evening, Porter and I greeted Jose Ramos and special guest, Jon Voight. Later, on Saturday during the autograph session, I spoke briefly with Bill Nelson, HBO’s CEO, about incarcerated veterans. Jon Voight autographed a photo for Incarcerated Chapter 719. Saturday afternoon, I escorted Rep. Bob Filner to the airport, and we spoke about incarcerated veterans and veteran courts.


One VIC objective includes educating people about incarcerated veterans and prison life. VIC provides a forum for incarcerated veterans organizations and for veteran justice officials. VIC also advocates for changing from a strict enforcement mentality to a more humane treatment-oriented strategy for veterans encountering the criminal justice apparatus.
We know that 11 percent of Vietnam veterans sustained felony convictions and 35 percent have misdemeanor offenses. Vietnam veterans returned to uncaring and unsympathetic communities. Many committed suicide or engaged in risky self-destructive lifestyles, which—not surprisingly—led to encounters with the police, the courts, and ultimately prison.
Unfortunately, our generation of veterans provides an example of what not to do to returning Iraq and Afghan veterans. Vietnam veterans will not permit the VA or the country to mistreat the new generation of war veterans. More than forty years of experience with the justice system as convicted veterans or as law enforcement observers, Vietnam veterans now offer insights for alternative strategies for dealing with those encountering the criminal justice system.
To this end, I have been invited to speak at the VA/DoD “Evolving Paradigms II: The Journey Home” conference in September in Las Vegas. Tom Berger also will present VVA’s PTSD-mental health perspective.




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