After returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. veterans are increasingly become casualties of the country’s longest war: the war on drugs.
Last Friday, the Drug Policy Alliance released anupdated and revised edition of its seminal 2009 report, “Healing a Broken System.” The report examines the plight of veterans struggling with incarceration and psychological wounds of war, such as addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder, and suggests reforms that could improve the health and preserve the freedom of American soldiers transitioning back to civilian life.
After a decade, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken an unimaginable toll on U.S. service personnel. Information obtained by Veterans for Common Sense reveals that, among veterans receiving care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 50 percent are diagnosed with PTSD or another mental illness. According to the VA, nearly one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have a substance misuse condition. Left untreated, these conditions often contribute to fatal overdose, homelessness and suicide, as well as violations of the law, particularly nonviolent drug offenses.
After a thorough review of new research, our report found that these grave problems have only grown worse since 2009 — and these problems are only made worse by entrenched drug war policies at the state and federal levels.
We arrest far too many veterans for drug law violations. A criminal record makes it all but impossible to get a job, housing, education, and other services — often creating a vicious cycle of addiction and incarceration. The latest data — from 2004 — shows that more than 140,000 veterans were in state or federal prisons with another 60,000 or more in local jails. As more veterans return from combat and separate from the military, experts predict that the number of incarcerated veterans will almost certainly increase.