This year, the annual Justice-Involved Veterans Conference in Houston aimed to raise awareness of the types of services available to veterans. People from all over the state were invited to attend the conference to learn more about the circumstances that lead so many military veterans to become entangled in criminal activity. Tom Mitchell, Executive Director for U.S.VETS – Houston, said that the goals of the conference are to “raise awareness, provide training, and highlight best practices or programs that seem to have the best results in working with incarcerated veterans, or veterans that are hopefully diverted from the justice system.”
By identifying the underlying causes that end up in so many veterans being incarcerated, it is possible to provide preventative treatment and services. A VA study found that more half of veterans who get involved in the criminal justice system have at least one mental health issue. Nearly forty percent of incarcerated veterans tested positive for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Scott Stein, of U.S.VETS – Houston, says that veterans in past wars had an easier time adjusting to life back home because they had a broader support system. “Veterans coming back from World War II and wars prior floated on a ship for weeks, if not months. They got to work out and talk amongst other veterans and other servicemen and war fighters about all of the things that they experienced.” Today, however, veterans are often fast-tracked back into their civilian lives without the opportunity to decompress and deal with the stresses of a war zone. Without that built-in support system and camaraderie, many veterans feel isolated and frustrated. They find it difficult adjusting back to normal life, especially when they cannot find a job. Some become depressed and find release through drugs and alcohol. Others simply become lost and eventually get involved in criminal activity.
Speakers at the two-day conference included Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, county attorney Vince Ryan, Judge Marc Carter of the Harris County Veterans Court, and mental health workers and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Talks focused on what needs to be done to help get veterans back on track, or to steer them away from criminal activity in the first place. This means comprehensive counseling and support services, especially for veterans facing PTSD, depression, and unemployment. With these types of services, many veterans will be given another chance to reintegrate into civilian life.