VA San Diego Healthcare System
Veterans Justice Outreach is Here to Help
When Vietnam Veteran Alan Alter needed resources following his release from a state hospital, the Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Program in San Diego was there for him. A role of Social Work Service, the program is a prevention-focused component of VA’s Homeless Program Office with goals to end Veteran homelessness. It has helped many Veterans like Alter over the years so they can find the stability they need to continue with their lives in society.
Alter entered the U.S Marine Corps in 1968 at the age of 19. He spent two years in military service and went directly from fighting in Vietnam back to his family within weeks without a way to transition properly from his wartime experiences back to civilian life. “The Marines didn’t have a place to station troops when they got back from Vietnam, so they let men like Alan get out early,” said Mark Alter, Alan’s brother.
According to Mark, this left his brother a changed man. He wandered the country, having encounters with police as he went. In addition, mental health issues from the war became evident as the years went by. His issues went untreated and grew, leading to his incarceration.
In 1986, after being found next to a brush fire, Alan was charged with unlawfully starting a fire on forest land and accepted a plea deal of one year behind bars and five years’ probation. According to Mark, the event was a way for his brother to seek help. After time served and out on supervised release, the Veteran was arrested again in 1996 for missing a parole hearing. After a year in state prison, he was transferred to a state mental hospital in California, where he remained for the next 24 years.
A series of legal challenges followed, and an Oct. 2020 habeas corpus petition finally led to Alan’s release at which time the prison contacted VJO coordinator Anisett Jacques-Willis at VA San Diego Healthcare System and connected her with Alan’s lawyer who told her Alan’s story.
A judge with the case wanted to make sure Alan was connected to a transition program before his release because he did not have resources or family who lived in the area. Jacques-Willis arranged to get him identification cards and a place to stay with Veterans Village of San Diego, a non-profit offering housing to Veterans at imminent risk of becoming homeless. The VJO program then coordinated with Mark to pick up his brother upon release on Jan. 8 of this year.
Since Alan entered the VJO program, Jacques-Willis and others have been working closely with various contacts to make sure he gets the care and benefits to which he is entitled. Eventually, Alan plans to move to Denver, and various services set up by VJO will be in place to assist when he is ready to make the move.
“Anisett kept me up to speed on what could be done and where we might seek help. But, she did more in contacting and finding people where I wouldn’t know where to begin,” said Mark. “One of these days after all this COVID stuff is done, I hope to meet her and give her a big hug because she was great. It’s hard to believe there was someone out there like her who takes an interest in helping people like my brother.”
For information on the VJO Program and local contacts, please visit: https://www.va.gov/homeless/vjo.asp