2016-06-09 / Front Page

Sheriff Demarco unveils new program for incarcerated veterans

Story and Photo by Tim Seeberger

S.C.  Sheriff Vincent DeMarco at press conference today announcing new program to help incarcerated veterans.S.C. Sheriff Vincent DeMarco at press conference today announcing new program to help incarcerated veterans.The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office announced a new re-entry and rehabilitation program for incarcerated veterans. Spearheaded by Sheriff DeMarco and the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 11, Farmingville, is designed  to help veterans serving time in jail re-enter society while addressing the underlying causes of their crimes, such as post traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

“I think this is something that’s long overdue,” said Sheriff DeMarco. “I think the Veterans community and the community in general—everybody—has compassion for veterans. We do owe them a debt of gratitude. They’re the ones that are going overseas, protecting our freedom, they come back here with mental health issues, PTSD that they got while they were defending our country so we owe it to them.”

Many veterans who come back from war suffer from substance abuse and PTSD. According to statistics released at the press conference, eight percent of all inmates housed in prisons throughout the country have served in the military, and 16 percent of those served the Gulf War II (those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan post 9/11) are diagnosed with PTSD. Two out of 10 veterans with PTSD also have a substance abuse disorder.

The plan seeks to help those incarcerated treat these issues and help them re-enter the community and find employment.

The idea for the rehabilitation program came from the success of the youth re-entry program that the Sheriff’s Office launched in 2011. The Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 11 is also helping by providing mentors in the jails to guide the veterans toward their reentry into society. John J. Toomey, Presiding Judge of Veterans Court, said: “It’s amazing to watch how their mentoring makes such a huge difference in the lives of so many of these veterans that are unfortunately in the criminal justice system.”

The program also looks to house veterans together so that they can  support each other while  in jail.

 “This is an amazing thing for us because veterans, when they’re housed together, they can communicate with each other, they can support each other, and if one of them get down, they can pick ‘em up,” said VVA chapter 11 head Ralph Zanchelli.  “Veterans speak the same language. That’s why this is so important.” 

Watch upcoming print edition for more on this story.

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