What To Do When a Veteran Is In A County Jail
While there are approximately 11,000 veterans incarcerated in Texas prisons, we do not know how many Veterans are in county jails because Texas does not reliably capture or report that data. According to an estimate in 2019, Veterans made up approximately 10% of the state-wide county jail population. At Texas Jail Project, approximately 1 in 10 complaints we receive are from Veterans. If your loved one is a veteran in county jail, learn about mitigating harm and advocating for care by using our guide below.
- Contact Terri Williams (email@example.com) and Cynthia Gray (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Texas Veterans Commission if you need assistance with connecting your veteran to a local peer coordinator and getting the veteran into volunteer-run support groups within the jail. TVC can also help in connecting your veteran with reentry support services.
- Go to: https://www.centraltexas.va.gov/services/Social_Work/VJO_Program.asp. Locate and contact the closest Veterans Justice Outreach to your location. Among the tasks of VJOs are to support veterans in jail to divert them to treatment programs when possible. However, the VJOs often have hundreds of cases and will not always visit or advocate for your veteran. Do not rely solely on the VJO for assistance.
- Always document each contact with all officers at the jail and elsewhere. Write down notes about phone calls, including dates, times, who you spoke with, and what they said, and whenever possible, fax or email any communication. It is also helpful to keep a log/timeline of what is happening with your loved one’s case. Document when events take place in case you need to refer back to this later. Certain county jails struggle with accurate record keeping.
- 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. Even though they are entitled to benefits, if they have not been assessed by the VA for disabilities prior to their incarceration, they will not even receive reduced benefits.
- A veteran with mental issues while incarcerated needs someone to communicate with his/her attorney about getting a psychiatric evaluation. If the attorney does NOT act on this, the family needs to contact the State Bar of Texas or a local VSO. Local VSOs can work with your attorney to provide resources to get a psychiatric evaluation completed.
If neither the VSO or the attorney are able or willing to get the veteran a psychiatric eval, please contact the Texas Jail Project (email@example.com) and we will suggest some strategies.
Some additional resources:
or call (800) 932-1900 or (800) 204-2222, ext. 1790
Meeting with a jail administrator:
- 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.
- If you have ANY medical records showing medical history, 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, and employers, and ask them to make statements about your loved one’s status.
- If your loved one has a mental health history or is suicidal, PUSH the issue with the attorney (i.e. DEMAND a psychiatric 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 always be polite.
Incompetent to stand trial:
- If the veteran is found incompetent to participate in his/her own defense and he has criminal charges, 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 talk to your local mental health authority (MHMR) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. TJP will try to direct you to someone at State Health and Human Services who can say how long the wait is for beds at the Vernon State Hospital.
- Make sure that both you and your veteran are aware that the process to be declared competent means that after hospitalization and being restored to competency, the veteran will be transferred back to the jail for the case.
- Encourage your veteran NOT to sign any paperwork waiving their rights to a trial while at the State Hospital. Speak with your attorney before waiving any rights regarding competency! If your attorney is unhelpful or not knowledgeable about competency, you should reach out for help from Texas Jail Project, or TVC or a mental health advocate.
- Request a meeting with hospital staff and/or the hospital superintendent in order to communicate the needs of your loved one. Be prepared to discuss your goals for your veteran so that everyone can be on the same page for their treatment. Let them know that you support their plans and want to help your loved one become competent again. Working together with hospital staff can ensure your veteran gets the services they need and doesn’t fall through the cracks.
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.
Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that’s available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. The caring, qualified responders at the Veterans Crisis Line are specially trained and experienced in helping Veterans of all ages and circumstances.