The Government calls them “justice-involved veterans.” They’re former service members now serving time under the supervision of the criminal justice system.
On this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute not only to incarcerated veterans in the State of Michigan, but also to the Michigan Department of Corrections for its treatment and care of veterans.
How many are in prison, and what brought them there?
Well, there are more than 100,000 military veterans locked up in prisons throughout the United States…2,300 of them right here in Michigan. More than 98% are men.
According to the VA, more than half of “justice-involved veterans” have either mental health problems or substance-abuse disorders, most notably alcohol or cocaine addiction. In addition, a large percentage are also homeless or at-risk for homelessness, and many others face such challenges as finding work and reintegrating into society. Sadly, these vets also may be at higher risk for suicide.
What can we do about it, and how is the State of Michigan handling it?
While there are veterans groups in several Michigan prisons, there’s an actual veterans unit at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland. It’s a good program, and we hope to see more.
Earlier this year, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency was recognized for its first-in-the-nation initiative that ensures incarcerated veterans receive the same measure of advocacy as other veterans. The program makes Michigan the only state in which a veteran can get connected to VA disability benefits while incarcerated.
Central to the program was the MDOC’s commitment to create that veterans unit at Saginaw CF. The department also transports incarcerated veterans to VA medical centers for physical examinations at no cost. Previously, these people were unable to attend their exams and their applications for benefits were often terminated.
MDOC Director Heidi Washington says that starting the veterans unit was a priority and that she hopes to continue expanding services there.
On Memorial Day, 2019, deep appreciation to the MDOC for forward-thinking steps to improve the lot of our military veterans. And, deep thanks to these men and women for their service! You’re just not going to find a nicer group of people. HFP has always had a fine relationship with Michigan’s “justice-involved veterans,” and we’re committed to continuing our help and support.
"How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!" -- Maya Angelou
Yes, including those behind bars!