On Veterans Day, as heroism in combat is honored, recognizing the hard road home for some servicemen can be as important. Veterans are disproportionately represented in American prisons and jails. Many struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. Once in the criminal-justice system, they often get cut off from the services for which they are eligible through federal and state veteran affairs agencies. In the spring, though, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian signed on to a first-in-the-nation partnership with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to identify these men and women and connect them with the help they need.
Veterans often don’t self-identify when they enter the criminal justice system. They worry about being mischaracterized as more violent or feel ashamed. Veterans serving time for felony charges also lose many of their VA benefits while incarcerated; many don’t know at least some of those funds can be transferred to their spouses or children.