Hello! My name is Jamie Keyes, and I am the mother of an Iraq war veteran who has PTSD and is also in prison due to a PTSD related incident. I really don't know exactly how to start this blog other than to say that my son's service in the military, PTSD and subsequent incarceration has really sent me on a long and painful journey, but given me a new mission in life. That mission being a part of educating our country of the plight of our returning veterans and soldiers, so that the appropriate changes can be made to better support them.
Because of my advocacy and experience with these issues, I have been given many opportunities to reach out to the families of veterans who have PTSD and unfortunately been arrested and thrown into prisons all over this country because of their service to this country. On any given week I receive calls from many desperate family members who's young veterans have come home suffering the unseen wounds of war, fallen through the cracks, and ended up in prison. I have heard all their stories, and despite the different circumstances surrounding the arrests of their loved ones, the stories are all the same. It begins with the soldier who is still in the military. Commanders and those who are supposed to be taking care of their soldiers are not paying attention to the signs of distress or responding appropriately.
There is no seamless transition from the military to the V.A. and many of them are sent out into the civilian world having to fend for themselves. If they do make it to the VA, they are not taken care of in a timely and appropriate manner, and many end up in prison or morgues all over this country. Currently there is no way of telling how many of our current conflict veterans are in jails and prisons all over this country because there are no studies on the numbers, or ways of keeping track of them. I will tell you this. It is at epidemic proportions and the citizens in this country would be shocked if they really knew how many of our young soldiers were incarcerated due to their PTSD.
These young men and women are returning home to families who are clueless about how to recognize the symptoms of combat stress, nor do they know how to respond to and cope with their veteran. There is literally no where for them to turn. PTSD affects the whole family, and we are given a broken used up soldier that we were not told how to take care of. In my case, I pleaded with the VA to listen to me and step up my son's treatment, to no avail. My pleas for help and warnings were ignored. We, the family see what is happening in the day to day lives of our sons and daughters. You would think that listening to the family would be an important part of helping the veteran. But the family is shut out.
Too many times I have heard from an incarcerated veterans family that they begged for help long before their veterans incarceration. What happens when a veteran is convicted of a crime? The first thing that happens is that the VA refuses to help them. All but ten percent of their benefits are taken away, and the VA refuses to treat them at all. This leaves a sick veteran sitting in prison for many years with festering mental wounds that will no doubt get worse as time passes. It costs the states money to incarcerate and serves no purpose other than to return an even sicker veteran back into society later. It also subjects their families to emotional and financial suffering. Haven't we suffered enough? How can we avoid this travesty in the first place? Listen to the families and you will find out.
We don't need millions of dollars in tax payers money to find out why the incarceration and suicide rate is so high in our returning veterans. Number one, there should be more intensive screening for PTSD after deployment. A few questions on a piece of paper simply isn't enough! Seamless and mandatory transition from the military to the VA needs to be in place. Counseling and education should be provided for ALL family members. Veteran's specific crisis intervention should be taught to all law enforcement and first responders, so that they will know how to identify and handle a veteran in crisis, without further aggravating the circumstances. The federal government MUST provide enough funds to provide veteran's courts in EVERY court in this country. This will give our returning veterans special consideration because of their service to this country and unseen wounds.
The courts in this country have no education on PTSD or, in most cases refuse to accept and appreciate what our veterans have been though that lead to their standing before a judge. They must learn and appreciate what these fine young men and women have sacrificed for their country in order to give them the chance that they deserve. Throwing them into prison like common criminals is not the answer, and definitely not what they deserve. The business of sending our soldiers on multiple lengthy deployments is creating high numbers of PTSD. Sending these poor warriors out again and again with a hand full of pills for depression and anxiety is not addressing these issues. It is the same way when they get home. A typical visit to the VA results in the veteran going home with a hand full of prescriptions for anxiety, depression, etc, and another appointment weeks or months later. No medication monitoring is going on, and the opportunity for abuse is huge.
What is happening is we are releasing angry, traumatized, symptomatic zombies out into this world and their issues are not being addressed. For every veteran who falls through the cracks and ends up in prison, there is a whole network of family and friends who also suffer. This epidemic is much more far reaching than most can imagine. Our soldiers have fought for and were willing to die for this country and ask for and given little in return. This simply is NOT acceptable, and we, as Americans, MUST demand that our returning veterans be supported in every way when they return home.
Our warriors should never be treated as criminals. Especially when the wounds that they acquired while serving this country have caused them to intersect with the criminal justice system. Please join me in educating this country about the plight of our incarcerated veterans. We owe it to them to push the changes that they need to regain their lives and heal from their wounds.
In closing, I would like everyone to see the documentary about my son and his journey to incarceration. It can be seen here at In Their Boots.