As more service members return home, many are faced with untreated issues stemming from extreme, traumatic stressors that can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some may also suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), other mental health disorders and/or addictions. These injuries may manifest as criminogenic behavior for veterans who struggle with emotional regulation. At the end of 2013, there were 700,000 veterans incarcerated nationwide in prisons and jails, representing veterans of several eras.
The PA Department of Corrections (DOC) offers veteran services and support for incarcerated veterans. After the veteran is identified within the DOC, he/she is provided an opportunity to participate in various programming and seminars via the DOC Veterans Service Units (VSU) and Veteran Service Office (VSO) initiatives.
A VSU is a transitional housing unit, designed specifically for incarcerated veterans, and prepares them for successful reentry back into their respective communities. These specialized units provide veteran-specific workshops and services to include acquiring a DD214, forms of identification, life skills, discussion groups, substance abuse programs, home/employment plans, education/vocational programs, mental health services (to include PTSD) and assistance with VA benefits and services.
VSU staff consists of a Unit Management Team, Facility Veterans Coordinator, Psychological Services Specialist, Reentry Parole Agent and Social Worker. In addition, we work closely with Veteran- related organizations such as the VA, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, PA Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Vet Center, V.F.W. American Legion and Tomorrow’s Hope.
The DOC currently has five regional VSUs. The VSU’s are located at SCI-Dallas (Eastern), SCI-Houtzdale (Central), SCI-Mercer (Western), SCI-Phoenix (Eastern) and SCI-Muncy (Central), which houses female veterans.
Based on the VSU/THU/RSO model, the VSO offers veteran-related services and support for all institutions currently without a VSU Program. The VSO is available to any incarcerated veteran who wishes to participate in reentry programming without transferring to a VSU. The VSO is offered in unison with existing THU/RSO programming within each respective institution. Incarcerated veterans are provided the opportunity to voluntarily participate in the various existing reentry programs offered. In addition, supporting staff offer veteran-specific programming, which includes but not be limited to Seeking Safety, AA/NA, RAP discussion groups, PTDS/Mental Health and seminars offered by veteran-related organizations.
Reentry parole agents facilitate workshops and provide one-on-one interventions with incarcerated veterans at the VSU. Parole agents work directly with VA justice outreach specialists to assist veterans with housing, treatment, and other needs. Parole agents also develop networks with community based service providers to assist veterans.