Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Lexington VA Medical Center Reaches Out to Justice-Involved Veterans

Military experience is life-changing. Following active duty, many Veterans experience difficulty integrating back into civilian life. Unfortunately, some Veterans enter the criminal justice system instead of getting the help they need – services that can help change lives, support reintegration, intervene in substance abuse and mental health issues, and prevent repeated arrests.
Since October 2008, the Lexington VA Medical Center has been working with the court system and local law enforcement to identify justice-involved Veterans to prevent homelessness, decrease re-incarceration, and reduce the effects of medical, psychiatric, and substance abuse problems on readjustment.  We believe our Veterans Justice Outreach and Healthcare for Re-Entry Veterans programs are needed now more than ever.   
Veterans Justice Outreach:  One of our goals is to avoid unnecessary criminalization and incarceration of Veterans with mental health and/or other issues. Today, VA continues to make a system-wide effort to ensure access to services for the justice-involved Veteran. A justice-involved Veteran is one who:
·         is in contact with the local law enforcement who can be appropriately diverted from arrest into mental health or substance abuse treatment;
·         in a local jail, either pretrial or serving a sentence; or
·         is involved in adjudication or monitoring by a court.
Each VA medical center has a Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialist, who serves as the liaison between Veterans, VA, and the local justice system. In this role, they work with the courts to help eligible justice-involved Veterans get needed mental health and substance abuse services when clinically indicated, and other VA services and benefits. These can include assessment, treatment planning, and referrals to VA.
VJO specialists may be involved in various types of cases, misdemeanors or felonies. However, it is the responsibility of the court to decide if diversion and/or release is in the interests of public safety and justice. With a Veteran's consent, the specialist can:
·         assist the courts in developing a service and linkage plan,
·         keep officers of the court informed of Veteran’s compliance with their treatment programs, and
·         provide training for law enforcement officers about the signs and symptoms for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Healthcare for Re-Entry Veterans: This program provides outreach and assessment to Veterans who are within 6 months of release from state and federal prisons, with the goals of:
·         preventing homelessness
·         reducing the impact of medical, psychiatric, and substance abuse problems upon community re-adjustment
·         decreasing the likelihood of re-incarceration   
Some of the services we provide include:
§  outreach and pre-release assessments
§  referrals to medical, psychiatric, and social services including employment services upon release
§  short term case management
At Lexington VA Medical Center, we are committed to healing justice-involved Veterans by providing effective justice outreach and re-entry programs.  If you are currently working with Veterans and would like more information on these programs, please contact Kathy Vasquez, LCSW at (859) 233-4511, ext. 3177 or Janis Durham, LCSW at (859) 233-4511, ext. 3125.