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Fall 2013, Volume 21, Number 4

Peer Support for Justice-Involved Veterans

David Goldstein is part of a team that provides support and services to veterans in Mission Direct Vet Program in Massachusetts. The state is a 2008 recipient of a grant from SAMHSA's Jail Diversion and Trauma Recovery – Priority to Veterans grant program. He is also a Vietnam veteran, trauma survivor, and person in recovery.

Many grantees prefer to include a veteran peer because they understand aspects of combat and military culture, enhancing their rapport with participants. Peer volunteers or specialists work with the veterans to ensure that they manage their parole conditions well, adhere to the diversion conditions, engage in their treatment, and connect with the community.

David's duties include peer mentoring and coaching, connecting veterans to recovery resources, group facilitation, and community integration. But his dedication extends beyond his formal duties.

"I try to figure out what they need, but I'm really more like their reality check," he said. "I need to remind them—if you don't stay on track, you'll find yourself back in jail."

It's not uncommon for David to provide transportation, attend court with one of the veterans, or respond to the concerns of family members. He sees part of his role not only to keep those in the program on the right track, but also to integrate them back into life and the community.

"I ask these guys 'What do you need and how can I help you?'" David said. "We share life experiences and talk about life's frustrations. That's something we can all share a lot about."

David's assistance has proven very helpful for Wally, a veteran of the more recent conflicts in the Middle East.

Two incidents resulted in six felony and four misdemeanor offences for Wally, a veteran of the National Guard. After three deployments, Wally returned home a very angry man. And under the influence of alcohol, Wally's anger and trauma exploded.

Wally joined the National Guard when he was 19 years old and remained in the service for 21 years as an engineer. Although he wasn't in direct combat, many of his missions exposed him to enemy fire, where he saw civilians killed and entire city blocks disappear.

When he sought help from the Department of Veteran Affairs for his mental health and alcohol concerns, he was reassured that he was fine. Eventually he was discharged and employed in a well-paying corporate job. But Wally had post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and substance use issues that eventually led him into the criminal justice system.

Photo of David Goldstein and Wally

Left to right: David Goldstein with Wally

His attorney told him about the Mission Direct Vet program in Massachusetts and asked him to work with the court. Wally agreed. Meanwhile, in prison, Wally found twenty other veterans in the same cell block and was thankful to be around veterans in the same situation.

After approximately sixty days of incarceration, Wally received three years of probation and time served. He would still have a felony record, but he was afforded a chance to recover and stay out of jail.

Release from jail marked the beginning of his healing process. "It was easy for me to get into the program, but hard to do. At first I was pent up and didn't say much." Wally said. "I was full of frustration and anger."

Peer specialist David Goldstein was instrumental in helping Wally through the program. "He was always there for me. He takes the time to ask me what's making me angry. We would talk about triggers and how to overcome them. And the other vets in the group would share their ideas," Wally said. He added that the support group has been a very important part of his recovery.

When Wally thinks about what life would be like if he had not been granted a place with Mission Direct Vet, he knows he would have been incarcerated for years. "It would have made me meaner and angrier. My son was 11 at the time and he needed his dad," he said.

Even beyond graduation, Wally still had the support of the program. "I was there for a year and they let me stay around for an extra eight months. When you sit there with the same group of guys for a year, this becomes a part of you."

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