An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Board Bulletin: TDCJ honors, supports all U.S. military veterans
by Thomas G. Fordyce, TBCJ Member
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is proud to support those who serve our nation, whether they are in active military service, the reserve or a veteran. It is our duty to make sure they receive not only our thanks, but also the special benefits and advantages they've earned and richly deserve.
For many TDCJ employees, their service with the agency is not the first time they chose a career dedicated to protecting the public. Many TDCJ employees have military experience which has helped them advance quickly in the agency, and the agency has a long history of successfully recruiting U.S. military veterans for a career in corrections.
Unfortunately, military service can have profound and troubling effects, and some veterans find it difficult to return to civilian life. If a veteran finds themselves on the wrong side of the law, the State of Texas does not turn its back on them. Our veteran service men and women incarcerated within TDCJ are provided with assistance to help them get their lives back on track, including rehabilitation and career training programs to prepare them for reentry into freeworld society.
And veterans don't even have to be involved with criminal justice to benefit from agency programs like Patriot PAWS, a program in which offenders trains service dogs for donation to disabled military veterans. After certification, the dog is given by the Patriot PAWS organization to a veteran in need, avoiding the expense of professional service dog training, which would normally cost $20,000 to $30,000.
Veteran recruitment for TDCJ staff
In gratitude for their service and recognition of their achievement, both the State of Texas and TDCJ extend certain benefits and employment preferences to honorably-discharged military veterans. The agency also complies with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects the civilian job rights and benefits of United States military service personnel.
TDCJ has a long history of hiring veterans and continues to actively recruit personnel who are about to be honorably discharged. These recruits have received high-quality training, and have experience building and working with a team. The structured life of military service and a corrections career both require a strong work ethic, sense of discipline and commitment to professionalism.
TDCJ currently employs nearly 5,000 veterans of the United States Armed Forces and 183 staff members, including 78 on active duty, have served with or are currently in the National Guard or Reserve. With veterans comprising more than 13 percent of its workforce, TDCJ has earned membership in the "We Hire Vets" program overseen by the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Veterans Commission and local Workforce Solutions Offices.
TDCJ has developed recruitment media targeting veterans, and military occupational specialty codes are included on all agency job postings to help veterans find a position which corresponds with their military experience. The agency's veteran's liaison helps veterans answer any application questions regarding employment and benefits, and veterans are exempted from the normal pre-employment testing for correctional officers. During the last year, recruiters attended dozens of military recruiting events, and agency representatives attended hundreds of job fairs and hiring events attended by veterans.
TDCJ employees who are members of the uniformed services are granted leave for military training and when called to active duty. Upon completion of service, the employee is entitled to reinstatement and reemployment to the same position or career path, to include seniority, status, pay and benefits, if they resume agency employment within five years. Applicants who were honorably discharged and served in the U.S. armed forces or in an auxiliary service or reserve component of one of the branches, are given a veteran's employment preference and recommended for selection over other applicants.
TDCJ understands that the demands of military service can lead to emotional, legal or financial issues. In order to help staff members overcome these problems, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides licensed and certified counselors to help agency staff deal with issues like depression, anxiety, anger, grief, and basic legal and financial issues, and the EAP is administered by a private, nonprofit agency, independent of TDCJ, so communications are always confidential.
TDCJ is not the only state agency working to support our veterans; the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) helps Texas veterans get the federal and state benefits and services they have earned, and serves as an advocate for veterans, their families and survivors. TVC can help veterans file claims for VA compensation, pensions, educational assistance, home loans, insurance and other benefits.
Support for offender-veterans
While most veterans readjust to civilian life with no serious trouble, some veterans leave the military facing financial, physical and, sometimes, mental health problems. Alcohol and drug addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems have led many former military service members to be incarcerated in TDCJ. Addressing their needs to ensure they receive proper treatment and support is essential to improving their lives.
TDCJ supports offender-veterans with a keen awareness of both their needs and the various resources that are available, and the agency's Rehabilitation Programs and Reentry and Integration divisions focus on creating and managing new and innovative programs for incarcerated veterans.
Currently, there are more than 40 veteran support programs, many conducted in partnership with public and private organizations, as well as church and other volunteer groups. In addition, there are three independent peer-support groups for incarcerated offenders, and a veteran's reentry dormitory at the Travis County State Jail, where daily activities reflect the squadron structure familiar to most veterans. Offenders who have served in the military are given access to the Department of Veterans Affairs' Guide for Veterans Incarcerated in Texas.
The Military Veteran Peer Network is an affiliation of service veterans and family members who are dedicated to helping veterans and work with TDCJ to provide in-person peer support to incarcerated veterans and, upon release, connecting them with peer support in their community.
The Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) works in collaboration with TDCJ to oversee the Health Care for Reentry Veterans (HCRV) program to provide help to special needs offenders prior to release. HCRV services include pre-release assessment and reentry planning, as well as referrals for medical, psychiatric and employment support services.
TDCJ works to identify appropriate medical facilities for veterans who are receiving a Medically Recommended Intensive Supervision release or who are in need of medically appropriate residence or care upon parole or discharge. The agency also coordinates with the Texas Veterans Commission to maintain continuity of care and help eligible veterans submit their benefit applications. Other pre-release support services include requesting copies of an offender's DD-214 discharge papers and other military records.
In 2018, Veterans Helping Veterans was presented with the "Most Innovative Program" award during the Governor's Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Award program. Modeled after a military unit to promote mutual support, trust and comradery, licensed counselors conduct group therapy sessions on topics such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anger management, depression and other veteran-related issues. The program also covers PTSD awareness and management, resume preparation, employment skills, financial management and mentoring.
TDCJ is proud of the veterans who rehabilitate, overcome obstacles to reintegration and find their path to a law-abiding life.