Soledad – On May 28, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Correctional Training Facility (CTF) for the first Veterans Hub in the nation with the capacity to eventually house some 1,200 incarcerated veterans, the largest program of its kind. The facility will offer programs and services to better coordinate delivery of VA benefits for eligible veterans serving sentences in state prison, as well as provide targeted rehabilitative programs.
“Our collective focus and goal in CDCR is to promote rehabilitation and ensure the incarcerated population has the services, resources and tools they need while they’re serving their time, but more importantly when they are released in our communities,” said CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison. “I appreciate our veterans for their services, and I am very proud of this effort, and of the dedication and commitment of our staff and our partners.”
Eligible veterans will be housed with and be offered an array of programming including some unique to the unit: veteran mentorship, support groups and the new Canine Life Program which teaches and places highly educated service dogs with veterans and first responders suffering from PTSD.
“We strive to reinvigorate those characteristics by reminding the men of their past accomplishments,” said CTF Warden Craig Koenig. “The program is not just about access to the men by outside stakeholders interested in giving the men their veteran benefits, which is incredibly important. We are striving to give the men back their lives.”
U.S. Congressman Jimmy Panetta was in attendance. The raising of the colors was done by the CTF Veterans Hub Honor Guard, and the national anthem was sung by CTF veteran Derrek Holmes. Additionally, the invocation was done by CTF veteran Tom Daniels, the Veterans Hub Chaplain.
The facility is comprised of five housing units that can house more than 200 individuals per building. Each building will be a purposed unit within the prison. The improvements were paid for through a partnership with Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out and other charitable organizations. (http://veteranshealingveterans.com/index.html)
The veteran-focused facility is the realization of a vision that began in 2019. CTF partnered with VHV Founder and Executive Director Ron Self, a highly decorated Marine veteran who earned a Ph.D. in behavioral studies from Quantico while in the Marines and was honorably discharged in 1997. He later served time in prison, where he founded Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out and was paroled in 2017. Since his parole in 2017, Self has been an essential supporter of the Veterans Yard and has worked closely with CDCR on veteran programs.
“The realization of a program like this where we are able to assist the veterans who have served this country, as well as their families, and have better access to the benefits they have earned is long overdue,” Self said. “We are also working hand in hand with the VA and CDCR in navigating the logistics of onsite exams that require specific equipment and instruments. These exams and programs are tailored specifically to incarcerated veterans. In so doing, this enables the returning veteran to become a productive member of society once again, already having these benefits in place upon release.”
Those who volunteer for the veterans’ program must have served in the United States Armed Forces. All veterans, regardless of their type of discharge, shall be afforded the opportunity to participate in the program pending verification of an embossed DD-214. They must also sustain good behavior while serving their time. Participants will be able to apply for and receive benefits associated with military service, while also working with outside veteran agencies and community entities to address all rehabilitative needs.
Veterans currently housed in the facility have already begun to create an environment that nurtures personal growth, positive programming, and rehabilitation. The CTF veteran-specific yard will foster an environment for veterans to enhance their well-being, build self-care skills, counteract compassion fatigue and burnout and promote collaboration, success and sustainability