Today we are taking the day off from work for Veteran’s Day, but it doesn’t seem right to let the day go by without posting, to honor and thank all who have served our country, especially the many veterans who live behind bars in our country or with criminal records. This is not a topic often discussed on a day like today, but if we really want to honor all who have served our country, and all who have experienced the horrors and trauma of war, then we must honor those who, struggling with physical and mental health conditions related to their service, all too often find themselves struggling with the criminal justice system as well.
There is a significant correlation between incarceration and the mental health conditions faced by veterans: 40% of veterans with PTSD symptoms commit a crime after discharge from wartime service. As a result, veterans are severely overrepresented in the criminal justice system: nationwide, 10%—1 in 10—of prison and jail inmates once served in the military, the majority in wartime.
As many of you know, mental illness often worsens in prison. There is a lack of adequate treatment in many prisons and jails. Even those veterans without mental illness face significant obstacles reentering society. As we have discussed here on the blog, having a criminal record can make it very difficult to find either housing or employment, and lacking either makes it difficult to find the other, creating a vicious circle. Lack of housing and employment for those recently released from incarceration dramatically increases their chances of recidivism and return to incarceration.
For those veterans whose mental illness needs are never addressed, homelessness may well be the result. One quarter (25%) of the people who are homeless in the United States are veterans. One-third (33%) of homeless men are veterans. Almost all of them (89%) received an honorable discharge, and over two-thirds (76%) experience problems with mental health or addiction.
So today, on Veterans Day, we ask that you take a moment to think about all Veterans—in all corners of our communities, and honor them by thinking about the ways we can better support our incredibly brave men and women when they come home.
To learn more about these issues and to find resources, please visit:
- The Texas Civil Rights Project Justice for Veterans Campaign (with Resource Manuals for Veterans)
- The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
- The Daily Beast: Why Veterans Become Criminals
- Equal Justice Works Blog: Empowering Veterans by Explaining Expungement
Happy Veterans Day. Thank you to all who have served, and let us hope to be of better service to you when you return home.
—The R & R Team