From left: Veteran X Founder Thomas Pratt; Facilitator Sherri McGhee-Brenneman; Master Trainer Cary Adkins; SCI Huntingdon CO1 Cupp; and SCI Huntingdon CC2 C. Banks
On the third floor, in a brick building, some men are taking seats at tables set up in a U-shape. They are there attending a relatively new veterans' group being offered at SCI Huntingdon. The meeting is called to attention, everyone stands up and they start with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Then they read from laminated cards together a "Veteran's Creed." Ages range from 26 up to 70 years, and they come from both urban and rural backgrounds. The room they are in has large screen TV at the head of it, with an 18-slide slideshow going along with the format the group is supposed to follow.
This "new group" is called Veteran 'X' and has only been offered to incarcerated veterans at SCI Huntingdon for just a few months. There are patriotic murals on all the walls to help with the atmosphere. Veteran 'X' itself is not exactly a new group—Thomas E. Pratt, a Peer Specialist at the Hampton VA Medical Center in Hampton, Virginia, founded it in 2009. Since its founding, it has enrolled more than 3,000 voluntary participants at the Hampton VA Medical Center alone and has expanded to include a Veteran "Hope" program (female-only version). It has also grown to include dozens of other Veterans' Affairs facilities from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania, and as far out west as Colorado. Initially, it was founded under a Recovery Model for substance abuse treatment, but it is currently in the process of becoming an evidence-based treatment program under a suicide prevention model. The format of the Veteran 'X' group allows it a wide range in the way it can help any one participant. It can be an educational class, a support or therapeutic group, and even a veteran organization depending on how the veteran participating views it. The truth is that it is a blend of all of those. It can also be a reentry class.
Though the Veteran 'X' program has existed for 10 years, it has just started this new chapter for incarcerated veterans at SCI Huntingdon. It has crossed from being offered at and by the VA to being offered within the Pennsylvania DOC by Huntingdon staff. This new setting has provided a challenge though; the version of the group that existed previously (operated at VA medical centers) could not be operated in the exact same way within a correctional setting. The VA trained DOC staff facilitators worked diligently with Veteran 'X' Master Trainers and the Veteran 'X' Implementation Team to make the transition as smooth as possible. The main goal is to offer as close to the same group within a correctional setting as is offered at dozens of VA facilities around the country. Ideally, any reentrant who would participate in the Incarcerated Veteran 'X' should be able to go to a VA Veteran 'X' upon their release and have them correlate directly.
On Jan. 7, SCI Huntingdon hosted Veteran 'X' Master Trainer Cary Adkins, Veteran 'X' Facilitator Sherri McGhee-Brenneman and Veteran 'X' Program Founder Thomas Pratt for a certifying visit. As a result, SCI Huntingdon has just been certified as the first Incarcerated Veteran 'X' group in the nation. That means that this century-old building can continue to offer a brand-new veterans group.
Comments from the certification team: "SCI Huntingdon is noted to be one of best Veteran 'X' programs observed throughout Veterans Affairs and community-based programs nationally."
"SCI Huntingdon staff facilitators are some of the most professional, most dedicated, and most engaged."