Jesse Brown VA Medical Center conducts veteran outreach at Cook County Jail

Updated 7/16/2021 10:26 PM

Jesse Brown VA Medical Center participated in an event at the Cook County jail for incarcerated military veterans. The event was held on Friday, July 9.

Jesse Brown's Veteran's Justice Outreach Program works with community partners and local and county government agencies to help veterans get access to services that they are entitled to, and that will help them after their release from jail.


"Outreach to incarcerated veterans is essential to making VA health care services available to veterans who might otherwise not have access. This reduces recidivism and homelessness among veterans," said Charles Parker, a social worker and veteran justice outreach specialist at Jesse Brown. "Doing outreach in the jail gives us an opportunity to link veterans with services that address the core issues."

Some of the core issues that veterans struggle with are PTSD, mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness related to their military service or connected to the charges that put them in jail. Even in jail, veterans still have benefits and rights that they have earned through their military service.

"Veterans who were eligible for benefits upon discharge from the military continue to have access to benefits such as VA medical care, mental health services, substance abuse counseling, housing and employment assistance, and other VA services," said Parker. "In addition, incarcerated veterans who are not eligible for VA benefits can be connected to VA and community partners that offer these services."

In addition to veterans not knowing or understanding that they can still be eligible for benefits despite being incarcerated, benefits can change over time and it is important for veterans to be made aware of these changes. Officer John Coddington is the Cook County Sherriff VA liaison and has been working to help incarcerated veterans for eight years and has seen first-hand how these benefits help this group.

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"Unfortunately, most [incarcerated] veterans start to self-medicate and the downward spiral of incarceration begins. It's important to educate them of the changes that have been made within VA," said Coddington. "Hundreds of new programs offered can really help individuals improve their health not just physically, but mentally."

These services benefit the veterans and the communities the veterans return to after released from jail.

"Getting these veterans the services and support they have earned not only helps the veterans but it supports community re-entry, which is good and important for everyone in the community," said Parker.

"Many of the veterans were unaware of their benefits eligibility through the VA and believed they could not have their needs met. Others were excited to hear about the resources as they can no987oiuw begin to make a plan for when they are released," said Deyon Myles, substance use disorder counselor at WestCare Illinois and works with inmates on the veterans deck at the Cook County Jail.

"My focus has always been to get benefits to those who've earned them that can help them live a better life and, most importantly, keep them from becoming reincarcerated," said Coddington.

Veterans and family members of veterans can visit to learn more about services and benefits available to incarcerated veterans.

About the Jesse Brown VA: Jesse Brown VAMC is located near downtown Chicago in the Illinois Medical District. It is a 220-bed acute care facility and operates four community-based outpatient clinics in Auburn Gresham, Lakeside, Chicago Heights, and Crown Point, IN. Jesse Brown VAMC provides care to approximately 62,000 enrolled veterans who reside in the City of Chicago, Cook County and six counties in northwestern Indiana.

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