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Veterans Behind Bars Fight for Benefits

Tim Wright

In Virginia, about 4,000 inmates are vets.  Providing medical care for them is expensive, but the state refuses to take prisoners to VA hospitals where they’re eligible for free treatment, and it doesn’t take them to physical exams required to collect the benefits they’re entitled to.

Before he was sent to prison for murder, Tim Wright was a Marine who served in Iraq.  He came home a broken man.

"I was diagnosed with PTSD and I was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury," Wright explains. " I have memory loss, severe migraines, speech sometimes  and suicidal thoughts – a lot of the symptoms that go with it."

Tim Wright was injured while serving in Iraq.

He’s also had surgery on his shoulder for a war injury and requires three more operations that could be performed at UVA or VCU, but not at a veterans’ hospital.  Wright doesn’t know why.

"If you take inmates that are veterans to the VA for medical care, that’s less medical care on DOC," Wright argues. "The Veterans Administration is paying for that."

And, as the benefits coordinator for other vets at the Buckingham Correctional Center, he says many men are not able to get disability payments for their families, because the Department of Corrections won’t take them to the V-A for a physical exam.

"This is a way for somebody who’s incarcerated to still support their children, their spouse, their family, which reduces the dependency on welfare or government care or anything else," he says.

The Department of Corrections says it allows VA doctors into state prisons to do those exams, but Wright doesn’t know of any cases where that has happened. He suspects prisons lack the high tech equipment the VA might require.

“I have been at two different facilities, and I’ve talked to guys in our veterans’ pod that have left multiple other facilities in the last year, and they’ve never seen the VA ever come into DOC.” 

Now the benefits coordinator for veterans at Buckingham Correctional Center.  Wright reads from a letter one inmate received – denying him benefits, because the state wouldn’t bring him in for a physical:

“Please note that this required an in-person examination," it says. "We do not have the audiological or physical exam capabilities to do the exam,  and you were not able to come to the VA hospital for an examination due to your incarceration.”  

Michigan’s Department of Corrections reports substantial savings after creating a special veterans’ unit located near a VA hospital and making extensive use of that facility.  

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief