The Drug Policy Alliance released a paper last week, “Healing a Broken System: Veterans Battling Addiction and Incarceration”. One of several recommendations:

State and federal governments must modify sentencing statutes and improve court ordered drug diversion programs to better treat – rather than criminalize and incarcerate – veterans who commit non-violent drug related crimes.

Skip for this post my regular diatribe on how this is a perfect prescription for all human beings, military service notwithstanding. How bad could it be? Not many GIs are locked up for drug offenses, since certainly prosecutors and judges take their service into consideration, right?

  • 46% of veterans in federal prison are incarcerated for non violent drug offenses(NVDO)
  • 15% of vets in state prison, NVDO
  • 61% of all former soldiers in prisons diagnosed as substance abusers under DSM-4
  • Somewhere between 1/4th(state) to 1/5th(federal) vets in prison faced combat

OK. So there are lies, damned lies and statistics; maybe I’m trying to fool you. I asked how many vets are locked up, then simply gave you percentages of the ones that are locked up for dope related charges. Didn’t really answer the question. For example, 46% of not very many incarcerated veterans is about half of a very low starting number.

Do you know 14 people who served? Probably. How about 140, know that many? Unless you’re currently living on base, it’s unlikely. As of 2004, which seems to be the latest for which statistics are available, there were 140,000 veterans in prison. One hundred and forty thousand total. Not all, of course, for controlled substances, but it’s a substantial portion.

If a society is rightly judged by how it treats the least among them, isn’t there some corollary for veterans? Let’s find something other than incarceration for our former military members who possess or use drugs. And while we’re at it, we might eventually end up applying the same rule for those people whose “freedoms” they fought for in the first place.

[Hat Tip: Matt Kelley at]


  • MK

    Well put. What do you think the likelihood is that the government will take active, at least semi-successful steps towards changing these stats? It is really sad.

  • Most of our veterans in prison for drug use have PTSD. The military often discharges troops for drug use. PTSD is not diagnosed or treated. They receive a less-than-honorable discharge. These veterans lose all V.A. benefits. While in prison their PTSD goes untreated. The military,our country and our justice system has failed our courageous warrions. This is a national disgrace. VRFJ is writing to the President and Congress. They have a responsibility to correct these injustices. We need a U.S. Veterans Bill of Rights.