Division of Mental Health Receives $2 Million Federal Grant for Veterans

Helping Families. Supporting Communities. Empowering Individuals.

Building on Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health (DMH) Director Lorrie Jones' and former Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) Director Tammy Duckworth's commitment to aid Illinois veterans transitioning back to civilian life, Illinois has been awarded more than $2 million in a federal grant to develop and implement a pilot program in Cook and Rock Island counties to establish jail diversion opportunities for veterans with histories of exposure to trauma who have become involved in the criminal justice system. The Veterans Reintegration Initiative (VRI) is generating new partnerships among state agencies, local authorities, justice departments, community organizations, service providers and private sector foundations in their common goal of developing a trauma-informed diversion model. An additional objective is the creating ways of promoting both infrastructure sustainability and expansion statewide.

Federal assistance for VRI could not have come at a more opportune time as Illinois recently deployed the largest number of National Guard troops since World War II. The grant provides the opportunity for combining state and local resources to better respond to their needs upon their return in addition to those of all Illinois veterans with histories of trauma.

In particular, veterans with trauma histories in the criminal justice system constitute a population with unique service needs. Nonetheless, in general, returning veterans frequently face barriers returning home because so many communities lack an active interface among veterans, justice and treatment systems. Compounding the dilemma, veterans often encounter problems finding a convenient way to access to key services such as mental health, substance abuse treatment, housing and employment support. As the state's mental health authority, DMH has taken the leadership role in developing significant statewide initiatives in addressing those and other needs including correctional programming, and offender reentry.

"DMH is committed to the mental health of veterans living in Illinois," said Director Jones. "We are excited about this grant because it will enable us to expand our resources and create a program that will be vital to all Veterans statewide."

The project is being implemented in two phases over the next five years. The planning phase includes the participation of key stakeholders in developing a comprehensive strategic plan. Once the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) approves the strategic plan, the implementation phase, will leverage and enhance existing models of intervention at intercept points along the justice continuum to establish a formal linkage system between the criminal justice and mental health service systems.

Now the Assistant Secretary of [US] Veterans Affairs Obama appointee, Duckworth stated, "I am proud to say that Illinois has been a national leader for our veterans, with first in the nation programs including the Illinois Warrior Assistance Program that offers assistance for our returning veterans suffering from substance abuse problems, traumatic brain injuries, or post traumatic stress disorder. With this new grant, we will continue to increase the mental health services that are available to our state's veterans."

VRI is more than just another example of inter-organizational cooperation. It represents a transformative venture. Assistant Director of DMH Forensics, Dr. Debra Ferguson observes, "There's no longer any question of the necessity of good mental health to our wellbeing. It's imperative that we act on that understanding by integrating our experience, expertise and services in our state healthcare and social services delivery systems. Doing so not only assures prompt attention to the needs of returning veterans but, beyond that, our commitment to such a collaboration promises additional innovative solutions for all us."

If you are a Veteran or service member suffering from symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or if you believe someone you care about may be experiencing post-deployment stress or other combat-related emotional issues, call the Illinois Warrior Assistance Program confidential 24-hour toll-free helpline, 1-866-554-IWAP (4927) for more information and help.