All across Oklahoma, brave men and women enlist in the military, willing to risk their lives to protect our great nation. These servicemen and women have more than earned our respect. But we rarely treat them like the heroes they are after they have completed their service to our nation. Ravaged by war, some of our veterans return home from their military experience and suffer from mental health and addiction problems due to the trauma they face.
As a retired major general and former Oklahoma Secretary of Veterans Affairs, I know just how much our veterans sacrifice for this nation. Our veterans put their lives on the line, putting our country before all other personal needs. They very often experience trauma, which manifests in mental health and addiction problems. Unfortunately, in Oklahoma we criminalize mental health issues with disproportionate sentences for low-level offenses, meaning that many of our veterans are incarcerated for years instead of receiving the help they need.
But State Question 805, which would curb excessive sentences for nonviolent crimes, can help our veterans, and that’s why I’m voting ‘yes’ on 805 this November.
SQ 805 would end the use of repeat sentence penalties, which can add years to a person’s prison sentence for a nonviolent offense because they had a prior nonviolent conviction.
We need State Question 805 because my brothers- and sisters-in-arms are often punished with years in prison instead of provided with the help they need after they’ve sacrificed everything to secure our country.
Instead of helping veterans overcome the challenges they can often face when they return home, like addiction and trauma, we ignore them. When they believe they can’t handle their problems, they can sometimes turn to substance abuse and other nonviolent crimes.
Yet still, we ignore these cries for help. We show no mercy or gratitude for their service. Hastily, the system uses sentence penalties to lock them in prison for even longer. One U.S. Army veteran served 27 years after selling methamphetamine in the 1990s.
With State Question 805, we can take meaningful steps towards meaningful reform that helps our veterans. State Question 805 would save millions of dollars a year, and saved money can be put toward helping veterans battle their mental health problems and overcome addiction. Currently, 28% of incarcerated veterans received sentence penalties for a nonviolent crime. That’s 275 veterans who, with real help, could return as contributing members of society, in addition to the already great service they have provided us.
There is no doubt that we need a greater emphasis on helping our veterans. State Question 805 can help us do that. Join me in voting ‘yes’ on State Question 805 on Nov. 3. Let’s vote to take a big step toward investing more dollars in rehabilitation programs that can help our veterans live as members of our communities and not in our prisons.
Rita Aragon is a retired two-star Major General of the United States Air National Guard, former Oklahoma Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and co-chair of Vets for State Question 805.