For Veterans in Prison, New Strategies for Avoiding Homelessness

A black and white photo of the inside of a jail.

Photo courtesy of Emiliano Bar/

For everyone serving in America’s armed forces, the transition back to civilian live demands some planning and attention.  

And for veterans of the armed forces who are in prison, the usual questions about rejoining mainstream society, including how to find housing and a job, are even more urgent. They also wonder how people will treat them, when they find out that besides being in the service, they have also been in prison.  

Now a new nationwide test program, the Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program (IV-TP), is trying to find the best ways to help incarcerated veterans answer these questions.  

Like other homeless or at-risk veterans, those completing a prison sentence have been able to find some help, and referrals to additional services, from a wide variety of organizations, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and groups like American Legion. But there is a growing view that much more needs to be done.  

The VA and the U.S. Department of Labor are overseeing IV-TP pilot programs in several states, and working in partnership with other state departments of labor, to train outreach workers and to determine the best strategy for keeping formerly incarcerated veterans off the street.  

Stan Seidel, the Department of Labor’s Maryland-based national project coordinator for IV-TP, said that the new program’s goal is to find out what approach works best at connecting people with the help they need. The program does this by steering incarcerated veterans who are nearing their release dates towards steady employment, stable housing, and support services like counseling and health care.  

But Seidel said that the program is more than just lining up work and housing for veterans facing release from prison.  

“It’s more elementary than that,” he said. “One of the most important things they can do before they get out is start planning.” 

Seidel, a Vietnam veteran, has worked as a probation officer and is well aware of the typical experiences of people getting out of prison. So he is aware of the value in IV-TP’s effort.  

“We’re actually talking inside the facilities about the transition to the civilian world,” he said.  

Staffers from several IV-TP pilot programs reported on those efforts when they gathered for a well-attended briefing and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ annual conferencing Washington D.C. in early June. They heard stories of prison release programs that have ranged from adequate, to nonexistent, and shared their insights and experiences in connecting with veterans who are eligible for the IV-TP program 

Todd Doctor, the program director with Quad VETS of Hammond, La., has been doing outreach work in Louisiana prisons on an IV-TP test grant since early 2004. His agency provides help with government benefits, job training and career counseling, education, transportation, personal guidance and other services, and has just seen its IV-TP grant renewed. 

Doctor said that good local connections help Quad VETS help its clients. And, he said, persistence also helps in building relationships with incarcerated veterans. Doctor added that “we give them respect right-away” and look for ways to build personal connections and emphasize previous accomplishments.  

“We can… say hey, you were successful, at one point in your life- you were successful in completing boot camp, which is difficult, you were successfully trained in driving a tank or weapons or surveying,” he said. 

This effort to build on earlier successes, couples with IV-TP’s focus on case management and existing resources for veterans coming out of prison, seems to be working. And although it is too early to measure program participant’s long-term success in staying gainfully employed, housed, and out of trouble, Seidel said that the IV-TP test program as a whole “has far exceeded what I expected it to do.” 

Ultimately, he said, he would like to see it “reach every incarcerated veteran who wants to change their situation” and who is preparing to be released from prison.  

Seidel described IV-TP clients as people who have the potential to overcome tough circumstances and bad choices. And he expressed confidence that other people will see this too. As another grant recipient put it at the NCHV conference, while incarcerated veterans may have a prison record, “they served their country.” 

Issues |Veterans

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.