Missouri Veterans Project prison program is earning recognition for veteran rehabilitation

MOBERLY — Last year, President Barack Obama honored the service of the staff and veteran offenders at the Moberly Correctional Center. Gov. Eric Greitens did the same, presenting his commendation during Veterans Day last month.
A new veterans ward in the prison, the Missouri Veterans Project, is what has drawn the attention. As a pilot program started at Moberly, its success has helped launch similar programs in facilities in Jefferson City, Potosi and Boonville.
Overseen by the Missouri Department of Corrections, the project began with a Post Traumatic Stress disorder program. The ward offers staff-led training and classes for mental health assistance. The center holds a total of 1,800 offenders with 66 beds now set aside for the project. Of those beds, 51 are currently being filled by qualifying veteran offenders.
Karen Pojmann, the communications director for the Missouri Department of Corrections, says the program began about six months ago.
“The way that you would treat mental health with veterans is different from the rest of the offender population,” said Pojmann, “so they decided to launch a program where it could house all veteran offenders together and they could participate in those programs including treatment, mental health issues and substance abuse.”
The program holds a variety of classes on parenting guidance, anger management, cognitive behavior training and victim impact.
For an offender to be considered for a place in the veterans wing, they must have served in the military and be able to provide a DD214 proof of discharge. The program looks at cases on a case by case basis to determine what benefits can be given through the Veterans Affairs based on the discharge status. The ward holds veterans who have served from pre-Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan living together in the same wing.
The program has its participants following the same rules as the non-veteran offender population including a standard code of conduct. However, veteran offenders are given greater responsibilities like cleaning up, yard care and raising and lowering the flag daily.
Rusty Ratliff, a correctional case manager, who also helped launch the program, oversees the veterans ward. In his role, Ratliff makes sure the offenders have appropriate housing assignments and jobs while also dealing with individual issues and hearing any concerns that offenders may have.
To him, the heart of the program is the pair programming aspect in which veterans have the opportunity to teach other veterans.
“We have a lot of resource material and a lot of information and they develop programs or take programs that already exist and work with them,” said Ratliff. “But they have veterans basically training veterans on some of the basic things in life.”
Formerly having served in the Marine Corps, Ratliff says that one of the requirements for this program is that the case management staff must also have served in the military. Ratliff believes that the common bond between veterans is what helps make the program work.
“All vets understand a basic language and sometimes civilians don’t,” said Ratliff. “We can talk that language and understand what we’re talking about and it gives a sense of unity and bonding together. It’s important for the staff here to understand the military code.”
Ratliff hopes to bring in as much help as he can for the program. He says their goal is to help them be released successfully despite issues many veterans have to deal with including finding a home when released, substance abuse and emotional baggage from combat.
“One thing that all veterans in this unit have in common is they’re all going to be released one day,” said Ratliff. “It’s a long road to go down and I think we’re moving in the right direction by identifying a problem and now we’re just trying to work on the resources to get these guys the help I think they need.”
Originally published by the Columbia Missourian on December 15, 2017

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