Tips to Help Veterans in County Jails


Maria Anna Esparza created this guide for those trying to find help for veterans who have been incarcerated in a Texas county jail. She is not an attorney but a self-taught advocate and mother of a veteran charged with a felony; she has spent many hours asking questions and  finding out who will actually help.

General Tips: 

  • Always document each contact with all officers at the jail and elsewhere. Write down notes about phone calls and whenever possible, fax any communication.
  • To get him or her treatment and respect while in jail, it’s best to first contact the jail director and jail doctor and/or nurse and tell them a concise history of your veteran’s service and any illness or issues they have.
  • A veteran with a felony charge gets NO assistance from the VA! In most cases, veterans courts will not assist veterans who have felony charges.
  • A veteran with mental issues while incarcerated needs to communicate with his/her attorney about getting a psychological evaluation. If the attorney does NOT act on this, the family needs to contact the State Bar of  Texas. Here is the page on their website where you can get help for
1. Disputes with your Lawyer
and
2. Lawyers to help Texas Veterans
or call (800) 932-1900 or (800) 204-2222, ext. 1790

Meeting  with Jail Administrators: 

  • Make sure you have your loved one’s medical records so you can take those to the meeting.
  • Have a clear idea of what you want before you go to the meeting. We know it’s not always easy and you may not know what to do or say. So ask questions!

To help veterans with mental health issues: 

Call your county offices, to find out who the mental health county commissioner is in your county. Request a meeting and make it clear what your veteran needs. This person may or may not be able to help, but they will expand the web of individuals aware of your veteran’s situation.

Records:

  • If you have ANY medical records showing psychological instability, get hard copies of the records and put them in the hands of the attorney.
  • If you have no medical records, contact former teachers, principals, employers, and ask them to make statements about your loved one’s mental status.
  • If your loved one has a mental health history or is suicidal, PUSH the issue with the attorney (i.e. DEMAND a psychological evaluation). If you are concerned about your loved one being suicidal, contact the jail director/doctor/nurse and set up an appointment.  Express your concerns and demand an evaluation, but be polite.

Incompetent to stand trial:

  • If the veteran is found incompetent to participate in his/her own defense, the court will order that he/she be sent to North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, Texas, to restore competency.
  • Just because the order has been given does not mean it will happen immediately because there is a backlog of people waiting to go to the Vernon hospital. You may need to call State Health and Human Services or email Kerry.Raymond@dshs.state.tx.us to find out how long the wait is for beds at the Vernon State hospital.
  • The wait can be long and your loved one might sit in jail for many months. If that happens, contact info@texasjailproject.org and tell them about the case, and also make sure your attorney knows they should file a writ of habeas corpus. Once that is filed, the court can order the jail to send the inmate to the hospital or else they have to release him/her!
  • To get this writ, first contact your attorney but if she/he doesn’t do the writ or stalls, ask Keith Hampton, Attorney at Law, for help;  1103 Nueces Street, Austin, Texas 78701. 512-476-8484  and fax: 512-477-3580.

Research everything:

Research, research, research. Call every organization and check out every website. Contact your state representatives. Ask them to work for you!
To find out who your state representative is and how to reach them, click here: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/
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Resources:

Texas Civil Rights Project has a Justice for Veterans Campaign. They have a new brochure called PTSD and the Veteran. Click here to read it or download it. We couldn’t get any individual help when we called them about our vet.

Veterans Defender Resource presented by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. Local officials in Texas counties are authorized to establish Veterans Courts. This publication provides county and court officials with resources that may be helpful as they consider the design and implementation of a Veterans Court in their own communities. Read here how this Commission has awarded funding to counties to support their efforts to provide specialized defender programs that represent defendants with mental health issues, including the first stand-alone mental health public defender in the nation.

Groups assisting veterans and their families:

  • Stage Seven Connecting combat veterans and their families with innovative wellness services.