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Veterans Speak of the Importance of Helping Incarcerated Vets

With an increasing number of veterans entering the criminal justice system—some of whom are in the jail in San Bruno—the San Francisco County sheriff said Veterans Day was a reminder that more help is needed to deal with their unique challenges.

San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and his command staff recently joined other county staff at the county jail in San Bruno to commemorate Veterans Day and promote rehabilitation programs aimed at guiding incarcerated veterans out of custody.

Inmates at the jail Friday heard not only from the sheriff but also from representatives from Community of Veterans Engaged in Restoration, or COVER, a two-year-old program established to reduce recidivism and violence among incarcerated and formerly incarcerated veterans.

Sponsored by the sheriff's department, COVER works with the Department of Veteran Affairs, jail psychiatric services and various nonprofit groups to help incarcerated veterans and those who have left prison. They focus on the unique challenges the prisoners face due to their military service, sheriff's officials said.

Speakers at the Veterans Day commemorative event Friday included current COVER enrollees as well as former inmates and COVER graduates who have experienced combat and non-combat tours of duty.

"Orange is the color of disgrace, but today, for the work we do to better ourselves and each other in the COVER program, I am honored to wear this orange," one Gulf War veteran said.

About 70 U.S. military veterans are currently being held in San Francisco County jails, according to the sheriff's department.

Hundreds more take part in post-custody rehabilitative programs that help veterans find housing, employment and help for substance abuse and mental health issues.

"We're challenged by two distinct populations of veterans: the older, incarcerated veterans, who require a specialized level of care that they didn't get years ago, and the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan whose health and welfare needs are unique from those of their predecessors," Mirkarimi said.

He said the sheriff's department is seeing a growing number of veterans entering the criminal justice system, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to other unique needs.

The sheriff, himself a veteran, along with rehabilitative group representatives, pledged Friday to seek more government funding for reentry programs to deal with increasing numbers of returning veterans entering the criminal justice system.

—Bay City News

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