Addressing the Health and Legal Needs of Justice-Involved Veterans
December 10, 2018
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While many veterans reintegrate into civilian life without major problems, others have difficulties that bring them into contact with the justice system.
Compared with similar individuals in the general population, veterans are 8 times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 2–4 times more likely to have major depression. Several studies have shown an increased risk of criminal behavior for veterans with substance use issues, PTSD, and depression. These challenges are exacerbated for Black and Hispanic veterans, who are more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated. About 5% of people under New York State custody are veterans, and approximately 3,000 per year cycle through Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail. Because of inadequate veteran-specific outreach, incarcerated veterans are often unaware that they can apply for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services while incarcerated. They also lack knowledge about other benefits they are eligible for and the process to access those benefits. In 2018, NYSHealth awarded the Urban Justice Center’s Veteran Advocacy Project (VAP) a grant to address the health and legal needs of justice-involved veterans at Rikers Island.
Under this grant, VAP helped veterans on Rikers Island to reintegrate successfully back into society by providing them with and connecting them to health, social, and legal services before their release. Upon release, veterans were connected to non-VA and VA services, including primary and behavioral health care. To better coordinate these services, case managers provided veterans with a health care plan for reentry. Additionally, VAP conducted outreach and education to court staff to increase their cultural competency and better serve these veterans. By intervening while veterans are incarcerated, VAP not only helped them reintegrate successfully back into society, but also prevented them from being involved with the justice system in the future. Lessons learned from this project better informs the field about the needs of incarcerated veterans and how to address them.