Aleda E. Lutz Veterans Affairs Medical Center Promotes Veterans Justice Outreach Program
The Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Program is a newly-designed program that collaborates with the VA Homeless Program to reach out to community justice programs to identify and work with Veterans that are having problems or repeated contact with the legal system. The work of the VJO Coordinator includes outreach and collaboration with law enforcement, probation and parole departments, jails, and the court systems in each county.
The mission of the VJO Program is to identify Veterans involved in the justice system who are not currently accessing, or fully accessing, VA services. These may include outpatient individual or group counseling, social work or psychological services. It may also assist with such services to develop a support network that may benefit the Veteran with personal growth and avoidance of recidivism.
The Key Components to the VJO program are:
} Provide training and education relating to judicially-approved options to incarceration or judicial penalties for Veterans involved with key intercept points: law enforcement agencies, jails, and courts.
} Provide a check-list to justice involved agencies that help with early identification of Veterans eligible for VA services and refer them to the VJO Coordinators.
} Assist Veterans involved in the justice system with determination of VA eligibility and subsequent referral to appropriate VA services.
} Assess encountered Veteran’s mental health care needs and identify appropriate VA and non VA services. Refer and link the Veteran to appropriate mental health, medical, and/or appropriate treatment services.
} Assist judiciary, parole/probation, jail, and law enforcement officials with completed Release of Information forms that allow communication essential to services (attendance, progress, treatment, testing, and discharge plan).
} Collaborate with Health Care for Reentry Veterans (HCRV) Specialist to support early engagement in care for Veterans recently discharged from state or federal prisons.
The most recent United States (U.S.) Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Survey of Inmates in local jails (2002) data indicate that 9.3 percent of people incarcerated in jails are Veterans. The controlling offense for 70 percent of these Veterans was a non-violent crime, and 45 percent had served two or more state prison sentences. At minimum, 90,000 of the 9 million unique inmates annually released from U.S. jails are Veterans. A large majority (82 percent) are eligible for VA services, having been discharged either under honorable (65 percent) or general with honorable (17 percent) conditions.
Treatment court programs have shown to be highly successful throughout the United States. The Veteran Courts operate under the same philosophy as other specialty courts, such as drug or mental health courts. The idea is to provide low-level offenders with an option of treatment in place of incarceration. The court and the VA would partner together to identify eligible Veterans that would benefit from treatment and other social programs the VA has to offer, in place of incarceration. This is in no way a “get out of jail free card” for Veterans. Those that volunteer to participate in any treatment court have to commit to making changes in their life. They are monitored in all aspects of their life, and if they fail to comply with the treatment program and court orders they are returned to jail to serve out their original sentence.
The benefits of a partnership with the VA and the Justice System can make a big difference in the lives of the returning combat and non-combat Veterans. Current returning Veterans face many challenges, and their readjustment to civilian life is not always easy. Those challenges faced by Veterans often lead to problems with the Justice System. When anyone is incarcerated it costs that county money to house and provide treatment for that person. In the course of helping a Veteran to receive treatment instead of incarceration, a county will save money and help the Veteran to rebuild their life. Of course not every Veteran is a candidate for this type of program, and the choice of who enters into the treatment court or is given treatment as an option is always up to the court.
The Saginaw VA Medical Center’s Veterans Justice Outreach Program is in its initial implementation stage. The current program has been operational since March 2011. Terry Troxell a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) is the Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator for the Saginaw VAMC. He is assisted by Arthur Olrich, LMSW who is based in the Alpena Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and Mike Morey, LMSW, ACSW who is based out of the Gaylord CBOC. The two northern workers share collateral duties as they spend 50 percent of their time with the VJO Program and 50 percent of their time working with the Homeless Program. Between the three workers they are responsible for covering 35 counties in the Saginaw catchment area.
Currently, the VJO program has established its first Veterans Court, in the 86th District Court, which covers Grand Traverse, Antrim, and Leelanau Counties. The Honorable Judge Haley presides over this court and was instrumental in welcoming the VA to partner with the court. The Veterans Justice Outreach Program hopes to add Veteran Courts or Veteran Dockets in other counties in the near future. If your county would like to partner with the VA to help your justice-involved Veterans, please contact the VJO Program for more information at (989) 497-2500 extension 11916.