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Commission Aims For Smoother Shift From Military to Civilian Life

Updated: Mar 1

The Council on Criminal Justice's Veterans Justice Commission released recommendations to transform how the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration provide support to people transitioning from military service to civilian life. The Commission, led by former U.S. defense secretaries Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta— found that too many veterans are left with untreated PTSD and other conditions that increase their risk of criminal behavior, suicide, and homelessness. Among post-9/11 veterans, a significantly higher proportion—44%—experience readjustment challenges. These challenges are exacerbated by the complex process veterans face to obtain benefits, leading many to come in contact with the criminal justice system. One in three veterans also report having been arrested, and, at last count, more than 181,000 veterans were incarcerated in state and federal facilities.

The recommendations call for “urgent” action from tChe DoD and the VA. For the DoD, the recommended changes include creating an Under Secretary of Defense for Transition, developing a validated risk-needs assessment to identify those most at risk before discharge, and creating residential Joint Transition Centers to provide certain service members therapy and other care pre-discharge. For the VA, the recommended shifts include mandated automated, nationwide enrollment in VA care for all eligible service members at transition and a revision of regulations that will extend benefits eligibility “to all veterans Congress intended the VA to serve,” in alignment with the 1944 GI Bill. The Commission found that because of the VA’s incorrect implementation of a law governing benefits eligibility, the vast majority of more than 750,000 veterans assigned an “other than honorable” discharge since Vietnam have been excluded from the VA’s system of care and other benefits. As a result, their PTSD, traumatic brain injury, mental health challenges, and other service-related conditions have been more likely to go untreated, elevating the likelihood of criminal offending.


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