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Conference Aims To Address Problem Of High Number Of Vets In Trouble With The Law

A high number of military veterans end up in the criminal justice system. An annual conference aims to raise awareness and inform troubled vets where they can go for help. This year’s Justice-Involved Veterans Conference took place here in Houston.


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Life isn’t easy for soldiers returning from combat. They have to re-adjust to a less eventful civilian life after spending months in the everyday stresses of a war zone.

Scott Stein is with the United States Veterans Initiative, or U.S. Vets, the non-profit organization that organizes the Justice-Involved Veterans Conference. He says re-adjusting was easier for veterans of wars in the past.

“Veterans coming back from World War II and wars prior floated on a ship for weeks, if not months. And they got to work out and talk amongst other veterans and other servicemen and war fighters all of the things that they experienced and come to grips and terms.”

He says today’s veterans come off the plane and are expected to trade their battle gear for a suit and be successful. This lack of opportunity to decompress and talk about the things they have seen and done often leads to frustration, depression, alcoholism and even criminal activity.

That’s where organizations like U.S. Vets come in.

“If they have those venues and they have that support structure, they’re much more successful and they have the ability to blow off that steam in a safe way without being a detriment to themselves or their family members or the public.”

U.S. Vets puts veterans in contact with counseling and other support services to put them back on track.

Those veterans who are left to themselves often become homeless or go to jail. A study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found more than 50 percent of vets involved with the criminal justice system have at least one mental health issue. And almost two in five vets who are in jail were tested positive for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thomas Mitchell is the executive director of U.S. Vets Texas. He says the goal of the Justice-Involved Veterans Conference is to gather people from around the state and highlight some of the local services available to veterans.

“Raise awareness, provide training, highlight what they refer to as best practices or programs that seem to have the best results in working with incarcerated veterans or veterans that are hopefully diverted from the justice system.”

Some of the speakers at the two-day conference were Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, county attorney Vince Ryan, Judge Marc Carter, who heads the Harris County Veterans Court, as well as mental health workers and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs.