March 13, 2020
Maine Bureau of Veterans' Services Receives Third National Award
On Monday, February 24th, the Maine Bureau of Veterans' Services (MBVS) received the 2020 Abraham Lincoln Pillar of Excellence Award for Innovative State Programs from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Since 2011, the VA has recognized its state partners for programs and initiatives that support veterans in their respective states. The award was presented to MBVS Director, David A. Richmond by VA Secretary, Robert Wilkie at the 2020 National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA) Mid-Winter Conference held in Alexandria, VA.
MBVS Director Richmond shared the following regarding the significance of the recognition:
"The Bureau is truly honored to be recognized with this award, but its certainly a shared success story. This initiative was a collaborative effort with our partner agencies, all of whom share a goal of working together to find ways to improve advocacy to incarcerated veterans. This program turned into a statewide network that has not only benefited justice-effected veterans, but the veteran correction officers who oversee them."
MJAC has changed the way incarcerated veterans are viewed and their cases are handled. It has made great strides in improving access to veterans advocates, information, and services. It is MJACs stance that we have a duty to serve all veterans with the same level of respect and we do all that we can to prepare transitioning veterans to succeed after their incarceration.
This years award is in recognition of the Bureaus creation of the Maine Justice Action Committee (MJAC), which connects incarcerated veterans and veteran corrections staff to needed services. This is the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services third consecutive Pillar of Excellence Award, having been recognized previously for its veteran suicide prevention efforts in 2018, and work to end veteran homelessness in 2019.
In March of 2019, the Bureau co-founded MJAC with the Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC) Veterans Pod staff, VA Incarcerated Veterans Coordinator, VA Veteran Justice Outreach Specialist, Easterseals Maine, and Preble Street. The Committee had three goals:
- Improve communications between agencies;
- Standardize intake procedures for veterans who are justice involved; and
- Utilize Skype technology to improve incarcerated veterans access to MBVS Veterans Service Officers.
This is fantastic news, said Randall Liberty, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. Agencies across Maine continue to work together in order to connect veterans with valuable resources, and I couldnt be happier with the collaboration thats happening on behalf of Maine veterans.
MJAC quickly expanded to include new members and started to collaborate with the Maine Correctional Center, Southern Maine Womens Re-entry Center, Mountain View Correctional Facility, Bolduc Correctional Facility, Maine Coastal Regional Re-Entry Center, the Penobscot Nation Judicial Systems Healing to Wellness Court, Wabanaki Health and Wellness, the Maine Department of Labor and its Career Centers, Veterans Treatment Court, Veteran Mentors of Maine, Veterans Upward Bound, Maine State Approving Agency for Veterans Education Programs, the Small Business Association of Maine, the Maine Prisoner Re-Entry Network, Destination Occupation, K-9s on the Frontlines, the Kennebec County Sheriffs Department and its Veterans Pod, and the Maine Arts Commission.
Interactions with these additional agencies led to the creation of a welcome packet for new veteran hires at the Maine Department of Corrections, re-entry resource fairs for incarcerated veterans and corrections staff, the updating and sharing of a master list identifying businesses willing to hire ex-felons to help improve their transition back into the workforce; connection made between Veterans Treatment Court and the Penobscot Nation Judicial Systems Healing to Wellness Court for Native American Veteran referrals, introduction to VA Veteran Justice Outreach Specialists, and an invitation to participate in 2020 court trainings; the creation of a K-9 companion training program at the Southern Maine Womens Re-entry Center; discussions of ways to improve the re-entry process back into the community and the creation of apprenticeship programs for veteran inmates; the Veterans Writing Group at the Kennebec County Jail which led to submissions of poetry and short stories to the PEN 2019 Prison Writing Contest and one inmate/veterans artwork being chosen by the Maine Arts Commission to be hung in the 2019 Veterans Art Show, and ongoing discussions to create tiny houses for homeless veterans through the MDOCs building construction and furniture making programs.
With six field offices located across the state, and a claims office at the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus, our Veteran Service Officers stand ready to connect with veterans from all branches and every period of service. MBVS is committed to serving our veteran population in the most efficient and respectful manner possible, and MJAC is another resource connecting Maine veterans to needed services.
For more information on the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services, or to contact the Veteran Service Office nearest you, please visit: http://maine.gov/veterans/ or call 207-430-6035.