Services to Veterans & Their Families
in Suffolk County, New York

Background

Having built a successful record of working with veterans through managing the Northport Veterans Residence for 18 years, The Salvation Army was contacted by Suffolk County Legislator Bill Lindsay in the summer of 2016 to be part of Sheriff Vincent DeMarco’s new Veterans Re-entry program. Sheriff DeMarco created a pod at the Yaphank Correctional Facility only for veterans so that they could help each other through the matters that brought them into the jail with shared military values and camaraderie. He expressed interest in having The Salvation Army become a part of the Re-Entry program to provide social service programming to the incarcerated veterans.

Continuing The Salvation Army’s Long-standing Tradition to Serve Veterans

Recognizing The Salvation Army’s rich history in providing services to veterans, The Salvation Army Greater New York’s Social Services Department saw the Veterans Re-entry Program to be a great opportunity to begin a relationship with a new generation of veterans. After an initial meeting with Sheriff DeMarco and his staff, Major Loraine Medina, Social Services Director, Karen Cotugno, Deputy Director of Social Services Administration, and Gordon Sparks, Deputy Director of Social Services Programs outlined some of the services that The Salvation Army could to provide to veterans in the pod and their families. With the recognition that it is critical to provide the veterans with a community resource that they feel comfortable to turn to upon their release, The Salvation Army in Blue Point, led by Captains Felix and Irna Padilla, eagerly joined the project. Captain Felix, who is a veteran himself, expressed enthusiasm about providing ministry to the veterans.

Serving Veterans in the Pod and Their Families

On September 16, 2016, Sheriff DeMarco created the Veterans Re-Entry Task Force. To further reduce the risk of recidivism and increase the level of sustainability once the veterans are released, the Sheriff brought together several organizations that provide services to veterans and their families.

After a waiting period to gain clearance to enter jail, Captain Felix started providing emotional and spiritual care to the veterans on a weekly basis to the veterans in the pod on September 21, 2016. As the veterans expressed interested in opening up to a spiritual journey, Captain Felix gave them bibles. For Thanksgiving, with the permission of the veterans, the Corps provided turkeys to their families. During the Christmas season, The Salvation Army purchased and delivered gifts to the veterans’ families. Many of the veterans also expressed a desire to be able to provide gifts to their children personally. This was brought to the attention of the Task Force, and the Captains – already in possession of the children’s names and ages from the previous programs – immediately agreed to make this happen. With the permission of the Sheriff, they purchased books for the veteran fathers, who were deeply touched to be able to physically give their children presents.

Working with the Task Force to Identify and Fill Service Gaps

As organizations at Veterans Re-entry Task Force discussed their programs and their experiences with the veterans in the pod at the quarterly meetings, two needs emerged as challenges to the well-being and sustainability of the veterans: mental health services in the jail and transportation upon release.

Mental Health

Because Yaphank Correctional Facility’s Jail Mental Health Department is stretched thin, it is not able to provide comprehensive mental health services to its inmates. Jail Mental Health’s small staff is also focused on suicide prevention and not conditions that are prevalent in the veteran population, such as PTSD and anxiety.

In the winter of 2016, the Phelan Foundation, a long-time donor of The Salvation Army, contacted THQ to see how it could provide assistance to veterans via The Salvation Army. As the Phelan Foundation is located in Long Island, Mark Phelan, the Foundation’s representative, was directed to Greater New York’s Foundations Department. Upon hearing about The Salvation Army’s work in Yaphank and the identified gap of mental health services to veterans in the pod, Mark proposed that The Salvation Army’s team, Karen, Susan and Devon Reel, Senior Grants Manager, find out if the Foundation could support a program by which a psychotherapist could provide therapy to veterans in the pod experiencing PTSD.

Since The Salvation Army of Greater New York does not provide direct mental health services, Karen and Susan conducted research about the sector and connected with the Unified Behavioral Health Center (UBHC), a joint-venture between Northwell Health and the Veterans Administration that provides behavioral health services to veterans and their families. UBHC is located in Babylon, NY, which is close to Yaphank and the Center’s Director, Dr. Mayer Bellehsen said that he heard about the Task Force and was excited to join to see how the UBHC could get involved. The UBHC, Jail Mental Health and The Salvation Army are now working to see if/how PTSD therapies could be provided to veterans in the pod via an external provider to be funded by the Phelan Foundation.

Meanwhile, Michael Stone, Grants Manager, saw that the New York State Health Foundation welcomed a new Veterans Health Officer, Derek Coy, and brought this to the attention of The Salvation Army’s executive staff, who sent him a letter of congratulations. Soon after, Michael, Karen and Susan set up a call with Derek to discuss The Salvation Army efforts to assist veterans and their families. Derek was very interested and happy to hear about our work. Derek invites the team to the Health Foundation’s events about veterans so that they may network with organizations in the sector and The Salvation Army’s team continues to update Derek about the progress of its work with the Veterans Re-entry Task Force at his request, as the Health Foundation may be interested in supporting The Salvation Army’s efforts in the future.

Transportation

Another need that the Task Force identified was access to transportation. Upon release, veterans are having trouble keeping appointments, jobs and family obligations because of a lack of transportation. Some are unable to drive because of traffic violations that they do not have the money to pay off, while others can not afford a vehicle. Some family members of the veterans are unable to visit their loved one in the pod because they do not have to means to get there. Since the bus system in Suffolk County is unreliable and does not have stops located close to where the veterans need to go, the veterans are finding it difficult to maintain sustainability upon release from jail.

In order to address this gap, Susan has launched an assessment of options that currently exist for veterans in need of transportation. She has met with various organizations who serve veterans, including some agencies within the Task Force, to see what resources can be tapped today. As she continues to research and connect with organizations in the field, she looks to be able to help the Task Force carve out a solution. The Salvation Army’s team, including Karen, Susan and the administrators of The Salvation Army in Blue Point and Hempstead, will be part of the Task Force’s sub-committee to address transportation issues.