Veterans' Services and Their Affect on the Criminal Justice System
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Defending their nations and serving ideals of freedom and democracy, soldiers did not ponder over their possible laurels and awards. However, today, magnificent parades, demonstrative slogans, and Memorial or Veteran’s Days’ celebrations do not fulfil multiple vital veterans’ needs (Korb et. al, 2009). Those involve such areas as disability and pension compensation, health, psychological, and vocational rehabilitation, life and health insurance, veterans’ law-associated regulations, transportation, education, training, and employment services. Thus, veterans’ services agencies should develop and implement welfare practices to assist veterans and their dependents in getting benefits they are entitled.
The primary goal of a social agency is to serve communities, meeting their requirements and satisfying their needs. According to the generally accepted definition provided by Ambrosino et. al (2008), “social agencies are organizations that have been formed by states and communities to address social problems of their citizens” (p. 35). Social agencies can be subdivided into public (funded by taxes), voluntary (funded through contributions), and proprietary (profit-oriented). The poor, homeless, older adults, representatives of ethnic minorities, and youngsters have been the target audience of social agencies over decades. Needs and requirements of military actions participants and their dependents have been frequently understudied and undervalued. Therefore, taking into consideration the deleterious impacts made by war on humans, veterans and their families should be provided with the most efficient forms of assistance. Irrespective of its type, a social agency of veterans’ services is an organization founded to enhance the social functioning of veterans and their dependents, defend their rights, and fulfill their social, law-related, healthcare, economic, employment, and educational requirements (Zastrow, 2011).
The Veterans Services Agency (VSA) of Nassau for several decades has provided veterans and their family members with a wide spectrum of services; the organisation was initially founded to assist servicemen and women returning from military to civilian life. Returning from military to civilian life is a complex process of change involving influences of a psychological, behavioral, social, and health natures (Korb et. al, 2009). Understanding its driving forces and neutralizing deleterious consequences are some of the major challenges facing social welfare. Therefore, the Nassau Veterans Services Agency operates as a liaison between veterans and numerous institutions, such as the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Nassau County Government, Nassau County Department of Social Services, Northport VA Hospital, East Meadow Clinic, Mental Health Association of Nassau County, potential contributors, and other Veterans’ Services Agencies. However, the detailed history of the social agencies creation is not available; thus, information of its founders, staff, number of Nassau veterans, former goals and veteran-oriented services cannot be accurately evaluated.
Veterans’ benefits, services, entitlements, and eligibility requirements are determined by the US Congress and enounced in Title 38 of the United States Code, "Veterans Benefits". State and federal veterans’ benefits have been significantly expanded by the Nassau Veterans Services Agency in order to ensure that Nassau veterans and their siblings obtain the maximum benefits from the US Department of Veterans Affairs and other veterans’ social agencies at all governmental levels. In accordance with the official data of “Veterans Service Agency” (2012), assisting veterans who served and/or are still serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, or somewhere else, today, the Nassau Veterans Services Agency provide them with the following benefits and services:
- Filing discharge, separation papers, DD-214;
- Free transportation to local medical settings;
- Applications for medals and/or other rewards;
- Applications for medical and personal records;
- Career counselling, job training, and job placement assistance;
- Discharge upgrading;
- GI Bill counselling;
- Referrals to other county, state, and federal veterans’ services social agencies;
- In home visits to assist the house bound veterans or their spouses with claims for entitlements (including nursing homes);
- Community affairs including memorial services, dedications, ceremonies, etc.;
- Homeless veterans’ treatment programs (Nassau County Warm Bed hotline, Nassau County homeless help line, vouchers for homeless veterans). “County Executive Mangano established 42 County-owned homes, located on Mitchel Field, to house homeless veterans and their families and an additional 18 homes for active military personnel”.
The main responsibilities and operations are performed by volunteers and empowered personnel of the Nassau Veterans Services Agency, which consists of Joseph Pascarella, an acting director, Scott Castillo, a deputy director, Steve Bohn, Laurence R. Mansfield, Kenneth Rommel, veterans counsellors, and Denise Moore, a transportation volunteer, under the supervision of Edward P. Mangano, the County Executive (“Summary of Fiscal 2011 Adopted Budget”, 2011; “Veterans Service Agency”, 2012). Personal information and contact data of the personnel are available on the official site of the agency. In addition, local programs are staffed by volunteers; for instance, the program of free transportation to medical settings involves 45 volunteers; services for homeless veterans are coordinated by Catherine Martin Inn. However, practices of volunteers’ involvement in the agency’s programs, as well as requirements for their training, knowledge, and skills are not specified.
News on veterans’ benefits, arranged events, newly launched programs, available services, and the Nassau Veterans Servics Agency’s mission are disseminated via the mass media. “The mission statement should be a clear and succinct representation of the enterprise's purpose for existence” (Centre for Business Planning, 2012). According to the Nassau Veterans Services Agency’s information on its vision, mission, and overall philosophy of activities, which is available on its website and in printed publications, the social agency is fundamentally committed to “advocacy services for veterans, their spouses and dependents making it easier for claims and earned benefits to be administered” (“Veterans Service Agency”, 2012). Multifaceted veteran-oriented social services are performed in consistent, well developed, and focused manner in order to assist military personnel, military veterans, and their dependents and guide them “through the entire procedure from the claim application to the adjudication and, if necessary, the appeal process” (“Veterans Service Agency”, 2012). Providing advocacy services for veterans and their dependents, counsellors of the Nassau Veterans Services Agency collaborate with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal, state, local, and private social agencies to enhance the quality of life of the Nassau County Veteran Community. The mission of the Nassau Veterans Services Agency encompasses a set of the agency’s goals. Those include:
- "Educate veterans and their families on their Veteran’s Benefits”.
- File claims for veterans and/or their families to increase the dollar amount received by Nassau County Veterans.
- Allow veterans, who are currently receiving Department of Social Services benefits, to receive VA benefits instead.
- Transport veterans to the VA hospital and/or clinic.
- Advice veterans going through VA Board of Veterans Appeals (“Veterans Service Agency”, 2012).
Objectives to achieve the goals are specified, as well.
The medium income of American families in general and veterans’ families in particular has dramatically fluctuated since the onset of the financial crisis. In accordance with the financial report and numerical data provided by the administration of Nassau County, “the economic downturn has adversely affected the County’s finances in the form of diminished sales tax revenue” (“Summary of Fiscal 2011 Adopted Budget”, 2011, p. 223). In 2011, the agency’s supportive and advisory practices resulted in more than 20,000 veterans’ filed claims and $3.5 million in cash awards from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (“Veterans Service Agency”, 2012). In 2011, the Adopted Budget for Veterans’ Services comprised “$1.7 million in expenses with a full-time headcount of eight” (“Summary of Fiscal 2011 Adopted Budget”, 2011, p. 242); veterans’ services were provided in the amount of $28,000; the agency’s revenue totaled $1.8 million that was “mainly Interdepartmental Revenue resulting from the Department of Social Services’ use of VSA as an Information and Referral resource” (p. 242). Thus, the Nassau Veterans Services Agency performs transparent fraud-free financial operations.
Provision of Nassau veterans with medical benefits is one of the integral components of the agency’s activities; such practices contribute to the collaboration with the Criminal Justice System. However, while the US veterans’ medical programs commonly include Gulf War Registry, Depleted Uranium Registries, Agent Orange Registry, Ionizing Radiation Registry, and VA health registries, Nassau veterans’ involvement in these programs is not specified via the agency’s official reports. Moreover, taking into consideration a great number of American veterans diagnosed with PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), medical veterans’ services cannot be limited by free transportation to local medical settings.
Veterans’ healthcare services should be focused on provision of their complete recovery and achievement of their greatest possible health status in accordance with physiological, mental, physical, social, and vocational requirements. Rehabilitation process is an integral part of veterans’ health care. Veterans’ rehabilitation should be based on a set of comprehensive medical, social, economic, professional, physical, and psychological actions.
Humans are extremely susceptible to powerful war-related physical and emotional injuries such as danger, companions’ deaths, wounds, disabilities, cruelty and violence, opponents’ destruction, novelty and unexpectedness of events change, the highest responsibility, pain, etc. Fighting and killing, servicemen must act contrary to their nature, counter to their mighty instincts of self-preservation, ignoring requirements of own organisms, for the sake of transpersonal, national, and societal purposes and interests. Moreover, the wounded experience pain, an extremely unpleasant condition associated with disorders, sufferings, tongs, and torments, both physical and mental. Pain triggers discomfort and dramatically interferes with a person’s quality of life and well-being.
In order to survive, military men should modify their levels of vigilance and activity, fastness of reactions, styles of behavior, system of values, perception of environmental conditions, and attitudes to people. Such modifications are generally inherent in all combatants. Veterans’ psychological changes can be observed in the form of separate symptoms, interconnected manifestations, and in the form of PTSD. Brown (2008) states that “many veterans confronted a variety of social and psychological challenges; thousands of Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder)” (p. 4). Recent research has revealed that PTSD accounts comprise approximately 8.7% of total disability claims (Korb et. al, 2009). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, thus, is one of the most pernicious deployment-associated psychological effects of war. <
Being modified in accordance with military requirements, veterans’ mentality frequently appears to be maladaptive to peaceful conditions, standard societal values, and common behavioral patterns. Having analyzed pertinent research studies of PTSD and distinguished the following manifestations of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: “(1) feelings of guilt that often turned to self-punishment, (2) feeling as though they were scapegoats and/or victims of betrayal by country and government, (3) experiencing rage aimed at discriminate and indiscriminate targets, (4) psychic numbing or emotional shutdown, (5) alienation from themselves and others, and (6) doubt in their ability to love or trust others”. Therefore, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can induce a wide spectrum of asocial and even criminal activities (Brown, 2008).
In order to reduce symptoms of PTSD, veterans sometimes overuse alcohol and drugs. High levels of alcohol or drug abuse or dependence can lead to an increase of veterans’ chances to be processed through the criminal justice system (Brown, 2008; Korb et. al, 2009; Wlodarczyk, 2011). “VA provides substance-abuse screening and treatment programs for veterans who are dealing with addiction to or misuse of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco” (Wlodarczyk, 2011, p. 136). These toxic substances radically differ from those that are necessary for a person’s normal functioning. Toxic substances afflict every organ in an abuser’s body and increase risks of numerous severe and even incurable illnesses. The consumption of drugs and alcohol significantly complicates veterans’ health conditions in general and makes a deleterious impact on their mentality in particular. Thus, the Nassau Veterans Services Agency’s interactions with the Criminal Justice System can be identified as insufficient.
High socioeconomic status, increasing wage rates, and better health care are commonly associated with high education level. Although educational attainment has been steadily increasing over the last decades, veterans’ benefits related to the education and training services are not specifically included into the Nassau Veterans Services Agency’s welfare practices. Inappropriate access to education is associated with higher rates of unemployment and lower wages, diminished family income, and worsened health care of veterans and their dependents. Unemployment can result in constantly increasing poverty, high criminal activity, imprisonment, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and other negative displays. Therefore, Nassau local benefits involve employment counselling.
Taking into consideration the scope of services provided by the Nassau Veterans Services Agency, the following recommendations on social practices could increase the agency’s effectiveness towards its social goals and improve its impact on the Criminal Justice System:
- The agency’s personnel including volunteers should be more empowered to make decisions and design new veteran-oriented programs. Today, all activities of the staff are supervised by the County Executive. Although Lauffer (2011) claims that “supervision in social agencies is an integral component of managerial practices as it reflects an agency’s management style and the extent to which paid and volunteer staff are empowered to act independently and to contribute to agency policy and program development” (p. 259), staff reorganisations initiated by Edward P. Mangano induced controversial debates among Nassau veterans and the personnel of the agency, thus, decreasing its effectiveness.
- An increase in volunteers’ involvement in social welfare provides the the Nassau Veterans Services Agency with opportunities to develop and implement new veteran-oriented programs and expand the scope of services, improving the agency’s effectiveness towards its social goals.
- Information concerning education benefits for veterans should be better disseminated via the mass media and in printed publications by the agency. Veterans should be completely aware of available benefits and existing programs of graduate and undergraduate training at colleges and universities. Prosperity, development, and economic growth of each country depend on educated, experienced, skilful, and well-trained professionals. Each job requires specific knowledge, excellent skills, well developed abilities, high quality education, and particular personal characteristics.
- The official website of the Nassau Veterans Services Agency should include accurate data concerning the number of Nassau veterans, official documents containing information of state, federal, and local benefits and services, as well as the agency’s reports on performed services. Veterans and their dependents’ testimonials and reviews of the agency’s services will allow the personnel to revaluate and improve their practices.
- Veterans’ healthcare services should be expanded involving educational programs for veterans and their dependents of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, its manifestations, and consequences.
In conclusion, the veterans are provided with social services and benefits, and they have fewer chances to get involved in crime-associated activities. Being expanded and improved, the Nassau Veterans Services Agency’s practices can make a positive impact on the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system consists of the police, the courts, and the correctional system (Zastrow, 2010, p. 306). In order to prevent veterans’ drug abuse and crime, consistent preventive programs should be developed involving effective mandatory laws, protective orders, properly designed programs of advocacy groups and organizations, obligatory participation of psychologists, specially trained social workers, and certified counselors. Consolidated efforts of the Nassau Veterans Services Agency, local medical institutions, educational establishments, and the criminal justice system can significantly diminish veterans’ involvement in criminal activities.