By Mary Ritsick-Bonawits, Reentry Parole Agent
Veteran Service Units (VSUs) are designated housing units that provide incarcerated veterans with a variety of reentry-related resources. They are currently located in Phoenix, Dallas, Muncy, Houtzdale and Mercer; and all other SCIs provide similar services to veterans through Veteran Service Offices (VSOs). The main difference between a VSU and VSO is that the participating inmates can receive services without being housed on a designated unit in a VSO.
When a veteran is leaving SCI Dallas's VSU, staff request that they complete an exit survey. The survey is made up of basic questions to gather data on what is found to be most/least beneficial, participant feedback on guest speakers and any personal comments that the inmate may be inclined to offer.
The exit surveys—more often than not—provide positive feedback on the programs run on the VSU, the quality of staff (particularly having a readily available parole agent on the block), the PTSD program (Seeking Safety) and the incentives they receive for participation.
Staff often go above and beyond to provide the best possible services to the incarcerated veteran population. Accordingly, staff find the survey comments most associated with long-term change to be the most rewarding. These comments show positive changes in criminal thinking, the acquisition of new coping skills, and how veterans recognize the importance of the connections that they have made to veteran-related and other resources (including arrangements made for follow-up care). These types of comments keep staff motivated to continue providing the high level of care in which they take great pride.
It is easy to see why staff consistently go the extra mile when reviewing a recent sample of exit surveys. Some of the comments made were:
"Being successful is kind of like magic, if enough people really believe, it can happen! So, I know I'll be successful because I have enough people here that believe in me!"
"The VSU staff and its resources has been a tremendous help for my reentry and my success in life. "
"Every staff on the VSU was very helpful. Having access to the VSU computers is a plus. What you put into anything is what you get out of it. The VSU definitely prepares you for society."
"The parole agent was my biggest asset here. All staff has been helpful."
VSU staff at SCI Dallas also occasionally receive letters from "graduates" of the VSU who are doing particularly well in the community as reentrants.