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February 9, 2023

Noting the notable challenge of defining "veteran" for various purposes connected to criminal justice systems

I noted in this post some months ago that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) had launched a new national commission to examine why so many military veterans land in jail and prison and produce recommendations for evidence-based policy changes that enhance safety, health, and justice.  That commission just released its first publication, and it addresses issues that I had not really previously given much thought to, namely who should be called a "veteran." 

Specifically, this new publication authored by Evan Seamone and is titled "Who's a Veteran? Challenges in Defining and Identifying Veteran Status."  Here is how it concludes, which serves to spotlight the importance of this basic issue of definition:

How veteran status is defined varies widely across federal and state governments, as well as criminal justice agencies and programs.  While one might assume that the VA has the primary responsibility to define precisely who should be considered a veteran, the definitional standard has been expanded or narrowed through law and policy over time in states and jurisdictions across the nation.  For the most part, differences in the definition are based on the length of military service, the conditions of service, and how an individual was discharged from service.  As a result of this variation and the ambiguity about who qualifies as a military veteran, veterans’ access to benefits, services, and programs in the community, in courtrooms, and within correctional settings like jails and prisons is confusing and constrained.

The plethora of veteran definitions along with the heavy reliance on self-identification within the criminal justice system may discourage former service members from confirming their status when asked. Some clearly make this choice due to stigma and/or a fear of harassment and loss of benefits.

The complexity in defining and identifying veterans means that programs set up to aid those who served our country when they intersect with the criminal justice system are not reaching all who are eligible.  A clear, universal definition of who is a veteran within the criminal justice system and a better process for independently verifying veteran status would address that gap, ensuring that more people who served in the military and become justice involved can access treatments and services addressing the specific challenges they face.  That, in turn, will help advance safety and justice for all.

February 9, 2023 at 02:29 PM | Permalink


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