VA Boston Healthcare System
Veterans Justice Outreach Program
On any given day, Veterans account for 9% of incarcerated individuals in U.S. jails and prisons (Noonan & Mumola, 2007; Greenberg & Rosenheck, 2008). To address the needs of criminally involved Veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs developed the Veterans Justice Outreach Program (VJO). Here at VA Boston Healthcare System (VA BHS), we have 2 VJO Coordinators, Denise Flynn, MSW, LICSW and Jason McCall, MSW, LICSW. The VJO Coordinators outreach to VA eligible Veterans, with a known or suspected service-related mental health condition(s) that shows some connection to their criminal behavior, and who are currently involved with the judicial system. This group includes Veterans who may be in contact with local law enforcement, currently incarcerated, or involved in adjudication or court monitoring. Many of these Veterans could greatly benefit from being diverted from the criminal justice system to VA mental health/substance abuse treatment programs.
In order to be considered for the VJO Program, Veterans must be eligible for VA services. This is an important criterion which enables the VJO Coordinators to link Veterans to necessary treatment services within the VA healthcare system. Once eligibility is confirmed, the VJO Coordinators have a variety of duties including: conducting assessments for the courts on VA eligible Veterans; matching and triaging Veterans to the most appropriate VA and community based services; tracking treatment progress and updating the courts accordingly; as well as providing case management support where necessary. In addition, they outreach to key stakeholders including the Veterans Administration, local law enforcement, correctional facilities, courts, and community based organizations in an effort to generate support and enhance services for these Veterans.
“Our goal is to connect veterans to the treatment and services they need so that they can experience successful transitions back to civilian life and have no further contact with the criminal justice system,” stated Mr. McCall. “To truly accomplish this, we must educate others on veteran’s issues and foster strong partnerships with local police, the jails, and probation as they will often be the first point of contact for a veteran who is struggling but hasn’t chosen to get help yet.”
With communities becoming increasingly aware of veteran’s needs momentum has been building to establish Veteran Treatment Courts nationwide. The Veterans Treatment Courts are modeled after drug courts, which promote collaboration among the judiciary, community corrections agencies, drug treatment providers, the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare networks, the Veterans Benefits Administration, State Department of Veterans Affairs and other community support groups. These courts provide specialty, veteran only sessions that utilize the natural camaraderie amongst veterans as well as the discipline, integrity, and pride inherent to military culture to create an atmosphere where embracing one’s treatment needs is both accepted and encouraged.
The Boston Veterans Treatment Court had its opening ceremony on March 5th, 2014. This is the second Veterans Treatment Court in Massachusetts preceded by the Norfolk County Veterans Treatment Court located in Dedham, MA. Participation in these programs is voluntary and involves ongoing judicial and probation supervision with input from a multidisciplinary team of professionals led by the judge. VJO Social Worker, Denise Flynn, serves as the VA liaison for the Boston Veterans Treatment Court located at the Edward Brooke Court House in downtown Boston.
“The Boston Veterans Treatment Court provides VA Boston Healthcare System a unique opportunity to really show its commitment to those Veterans whose criminal behavior stem from service related mental health and substance abuse issues,” stated Ms. Flynn. “We have a wealth of treatment interventions and services to address many of the unique challenges posed by this underserved population; however it requires a great deal of interagency cooperation and collaboration to truly have successful outcomes. The Veterans Treatment Court is a shining example of cooperation between government agencies. ”
For additional information on VA Boston Healthcare System’s Veterans Justice Outreach program please contact Jason R. McCall, MSW, LICSW at 617-659-0207 or Jason.firstname.lastname@example.org or Denise Flynn at 617-990-7553 or email@example.com