Untapped Resources: What Veteran Services Officers Can Provide for Probation and Parole 1

By Douds, Anne S.; Ahlin, Eileen M. | Federal Probation, June 2015 | Go to article overview

Untapped Resources: What Veteran Services Officers Can Provide for Probation and Parole 1


Douds, Anne S., Ahlin, Eileen M., Federal Probation


THE MOST RECENT data available on justice-involved veterans suggests that about 9 percent of inmates are veterans (Greenberg & Rosenheck, 2008; Noonan & Mumola, 2007). Surprisingly, there is no comparable data for veterans who are serving time in the community on probation or parole. This lack of data on the magnitude of justice-involved veterans under correctional supervision in the community is paralleled by a dearth of information on veteran-specific resources available to assist them during this time. However, a multitude of benefits and community resources supportive of rehabilitation and treatment efforts and analogous life skills are available to probationers and parolees with prior military service (Blodgett et al., 2013; CMHS National GAINS Center, 2008). Further, opportunities are available through state, federal, and local providers to address the unique challenges veterans face due to problems with post-traumatic stress (PTS), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and reintegration issues (National Alliance for the Mentally 111, 2014; Federal Interagency Reentry Council, 2013).

One federally funded resource is veteran justice outreach officers (VJOs). VJOs link justice-involved veterans with services and benefits by serving as a liaison for criminal justice agencies, the veterans, and their VA benefits and services. With the advent of the veterans' treatment court (VTC) movement, the demands placed upon VJOs have increased dramatically, and many are finding themselves over-extended and under-resourced. These increased VTC responsibilities also impede VJOs' ability to provide assistance to veterans who are not participating in a VTC but require services. An alternative resource for community justice-involved veterans and the probation and parole officers who supervise them are VSOs. VSOs are an existing and seemingly underutilized and lesser known support system with substantial potential to assist probation and parole service providers who work with veterans. This article focuses on providing relevant information about this untapped resource and how practitioners in the criminal justice system can capitalize on the range of available services offered by VSOs.

Who Is a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) and What Do They Do?

Because their identity and function as related to the field of criminal justice are not wellknown, we begin with an introduction of the VSO. There are a variety of VSOs who may be employed at the state or municipal level, or at one of the many independent, charitable veterans' service organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans. Their free services are available in every state, are not restricted to members of service-related organizations, and are one of the many benefits provided to veterans.

While little is known about how VSOs contribute services to justice-involved veterans on a large scale, on the surface there appears to be an overlap in the types of resources needed by veterans and those offered by VSOs. Further, VSOs could offer invaluable assistance to criminal justice professionals responsible for supervising veterans on probation or parole. For example, VSOs can represent veterans in claims for federal VA benefits; they can link veterans and their probation or parole officers with state funding and programs; and they can connect veterans and their probation or parole officers with community-based treatment and transportation. While many of these services are also provided by VJOs employed by the VA, VSOs often have a greater breadth of knowledge about state and communitybased resources. Their understanding and access to local programs might exceed that of the VJOs, who have more in-depth knowledge about VA benefits. However, there is a lack of knowledge about what services VSOs can provide and how community corrections officers might benefit from leveraging VA benefits for their justice-involved populations. …

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