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The Tangled Threads of Service-Connected Disability, Incarceration, and Immigration Status

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Service-connected psychiatric disability and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are commonalities among veterans with substance abuse challenges and involvement with the criminal justice system. While these facts may point to a failure of the system to support service members who are injured in the line of duty, and the generalized failure to provide adequate treatment and support for substance abuse, the system is a catastrophic failure when the veteran faces deportation because of immigration status.

Many enlistees assume that serving in the military, and receiving an honorable discharge, entitles them to citizenship. It does not. There is a procedure for applying, and a timeline, but there is no automatic entitlement. Veterans who served honorably, and who do not apply for the expedited citizenship and residency while on active duty, can be, and are, being deported regularly. They will be allowed back in the US when they die, to be buried in a veterans’ cemetery.

While deportation of undocumented veterans has become common, the real challenge is for those veterans who are eligible for VA health care and are deported. VA eligibility still exists, though there are no VA treatment centers in Mexico or Central America. With no assistance for working through the system, that eligibility for services is often lost and veterans go without care.

The most common deportation practice with veterans who are undocumented are for those with a criminal justice conviction. The VA can stop pensions for veterans incarcerated in federal facilities, and families do not automatically receive the stopped pensions. Many families, afraid of becoming known to the system and being deported, never apply for benefits or assistance due to families.

Veterans and their families who are undocumented are facing challenging times. Many are afraid to access the system that has been put into place for their service connected injuries, because of the threat of deportation if they become identified by the system. Legal counsel can assist veterans and family members to access the VA system, and provide advice and assistance with issues of immigration status and threatened deportation.

For more information on psychiatric disability & veterans, please contact us.

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