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Witness Testimony of Hon. John A. Yarmuth, a Representative in Congress from the State of Kentucky

Madam Chairwoman, I thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the Second Chance for America’s Veterans Act.  As a small pilot program, the Incarcerated Veterans Transitional Program or IVTP has reduced recidivism by 90 percent among participants and saved the taxpayers 1.6 million dollars in each of the six locations where it has been implemented over the last three years.  We’re here today because by expanding this tremendous level of success to a national scale, we could provide hope for thousands men and women who return to civilian life after years of serving their country.

In my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, Richard Waddell returned home 10 percent disabled and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, honorably discharged after nine years service in the National Guard, Army, and Marines.  He had no job, no support, and a family to feed.  Out of desperation, he turned to robbery, and was apprehended by law enforcement while buying groceries for his family.

Unfortunately, to this point, Richard’s story is far from unusual among America’s veterans.  Where his story departs is when he was released from jail for the second time, he met an IVTP representative.  The IVTP worker first helped him with the essentials—clothes, food, and transportation—and from there, the dignity and respect that Richard had earned serving our nation returned.  Thanks to the help of IVTP, Richard was able to activate his VA benefits and register for disability, and he now has an apartment and holds a good job.  Next week he will begin college, and a future that once seemed bleak at best is now bright and full of promise.

IVTP has similarly aided 328 veterans in Kentucky, by partnering veterans transitioning out of prison, who are at risk of homelessness upon their release, with a professional mentoring staff composed of veterans to help them get back on their feet.  Of those 328, just 22 returned to criminal activity after engaging the program, a recidivism rate of seven percent.  That number is impressive by any standard, but for a veteran population that sees over half of its ranks return to prison, the success of this program is extraordinary.  Abandoning this success, and the men and women who served our country, would not only be counterproductive, but also send the message that our veterans only matter when our country needs them and not when they need our country. 

The Second Chance for America’s Veterans Act, would expand the highly successful IVTP pilot to a competitive grant program in twenty-four locations across the US. Providers would assist veterans who are exiting the corrections system by connecting them with transitional housing, employment services, mental health and/or substance abuse services, and other community support.

After all that our veterans have given for this country, providing them with such vital, effective, and proven services should be an obligation not an option.  But this isn’t only about giving, this is also a matter of working for our national interest.  In Kentucky, we have the most rapidly growing prison population in the nation, a truth that has had a devastating effect on the fiscal reality of the Commonwealth. 

To keep a convict in prison for a year, Kentucky spends over 18,000 dollars.  By comparison, Volunteers of America, which currently administers the program, spends between 700 and 1200 dollars to give a veteran the tools to stay out of prison and contribute to society for a lifetime.

At a time when we search to find new approaches to stimulate the economy and get a handle on America’s ever-growing deficit, the Second Chance for America’s Veterans Act offers us the opportunity to support a program with a proven track record of providing immediate and substantial return on our investment, while also paying a debt to those in uniform who sacrificed to serve our country.  This is a unique win-win in government.

Still, the Department of Labor has chosen not to continue this highly successful program, and without action by Congress, thousands of worthy veterans in need would be abandoned by the nation  they served; left to bounce around our overcrowded prison system. 

I thank the committee for looking into this legislation and strongly urge you to support passage of H.R. 3467 the Second Chance for America’s Veterans Act.