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Prisoner reentry group announces mental health, addiction services for vets

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Prisoner reentry group announces mental health, addiction services for vets

May 13, 2022 | 6:48 am ET
By Nikita Biryukov
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Prisoner reentry group announces mental health, addiction services for vets
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Former Gov. Jim McGreevey’s prisoner reentry group will partner with others to provide psychiatric care, substance and mental health treatment, and other services to veterans. (Courtesy of New Jersey Reentry Corp.)

The New Jersey Reentry Corp. will partner with health organizations to offer mental health and addiction services to veterans who received an other-than-honorable discharge, former Gov. Jim McGreevey announced Thursday.

The services will include acute short-term psychiatric care provided by Hackensack Meridian Health, a 30-day program for veterans with substance use and mental health disorders through the University of Pennsylvania Medicine at Princeton, and a 30-day residential addiction treatment program provided by the Discovery Institute.

“This isn’t a discussion. This isn’t a hope. This is not an aspiration. These are services that are going to be provided,” said McGreevey, the reentry group’s chairman.

An other-than-honorable discharge is a type of administrative discharge meted out to those who violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice or face certain charges lodged by civil authorities, including drug offenses.

Veterans who receive this kind of discharge are ineligible for veterans’ benefits.

As many as a third of veterans returning from combat deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq have mental health issues and face high rates of suicide and homelessness, said Ramon Solhkhah, chair of the Jersey Shore Medical Center’s psychiatry department.

“If we cannot support those who served in the military, what in God’s name are we here for?” state Sen. Pat Diegnan (D-Middlesex) said.

While veterans who receive an honorable discharge have access to health services through the Department of Veterans Affairs, those can be unavailable to soldiers discharged for drug use spurred by post-traumatic stress.

For some, the issue is personal. Daniel Keegan died of an infection connected to heroin addiction after he suffered emotional turmoil accumulated during two deployments to Afghanistan with the army’s 82nd Airborne Seventh Special Forces Group.

Though he was honorably discharged, Keegan still faced more than a year’s wait for mental health services, his mother, Stephanie Keegan, said Thursday.

“This child, who was the soldier of the year at Fort Bragg, who as an extraordinary soldier, a wonderful brother and son, a fantastic human being, lost his life because after he served us, we did not serve him,” Stephanie Keegan said. “We need to do better, and there should be no excuse good enough to keep our veterans from getting the care they need.”