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Co-Occurring Disorders and Military Justice

Veterans in Contact with the Justice System

On any given day, veterans account for nine of every hundred individuals in U.S. jails and prisons. Taken as a whole, veterans are not overrepresented in the justice system as compared to their proportion in the United States general adult population. Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operating Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) constitute a small proportion of all justice-involved veterans. The exact numbers are unknown — the most recent data on incarcerated veterans are from 2004 for state and Federal prisoners and 2002 for local jail inmates.

Prison Inmates

While the majority of veterans in prison served during a wartime period, only one in five served combat duty. Of those who served during wartime, most were Vietnam veterans. Nearly all veterans in prison are males, with a median age of 45 years. Veterans in prison are more likely to have committed a violent crime and to serve a longer sentence than civilians, but less likely to have a criminal history prior to the offense that resulted in prison.

Jail Inmates

A study of incarcerated and homeless veterans who were contacted by outreach workers found that one in five incarcerated veterans were experiencing long-term homelessness prior to being admitted to jail. Three in four were unemployed. In the year after being contacted by outreach workers, veterans who had been in jail were less likely than veterans who had been homeless to receive any health care services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Case Study: Travis County, Texas

In 2008 the jail in Travis County, TX, conducted a survey of inmates being booked into the county jail over the course of three months. Each month approximately 150 persons being booked into the jail self-identified as veterans. Half of the inmates served in the Army and one in five were in the Navy.

The majority were arrested for a misdemeanor offense. The most frequent charges were driving while intoxicated, assault with bodily injury, possession of an illegal substance, theft, and traffic offenses. Veterans under thirty years of age were responsible for four in ten of the alcohol and drug related offenses.

One-third of the veterans booked into the jail had received healthcare services from the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans in their twenties and thirties were less likely than older veterans to be connected with the VA.


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