For more than a decade, Anthony S., a U.S. Army veteran, has been haunted by it. Each time the homeless veteran seeks an opportunity to turn his life around; there it is in black and white print – convicted felon.
Anthony and some 123 homeless veterans currently being served by Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation (HVAF) have criminal records. Their lives ruined after a single poor choice and despite their brave service to their country.
“It started from the very moment I made that decision to steal,” the 49-year-old, who served six months in prison for his crime, says. “I was abusing alcohol, wasn’t thinking straight and that wrong decision has been a barrier for me moving forward with my life.”
But now, HVAF, its partner the United Way of Central Indiana and others are launching a new program on August 28 at the Indiana War Memorial that could help veterans move beyond their criminal convictions.
“We’re calling it Second Chances Series: Helping Hoosier Veterans, an Expungement Forum,” says Charles Haenlein, Ph.D., the President and CEO of HVAF. “We will help veterans and our HVAF case managers, who work to return our vets to self sufficiency, understand a new state law (Public Law 159), that went into effect July 1 that allows some crimes to be expunged from veterans’ records.”
Keith C., HVAF veteran
“It’s discouraging that each time I apply for a job and they find out that I have a criminal record I never hear from them again,” says HVAF veteran Keith C., a 47-year-old veteran of Operation Desert Storm. “The opportunity for a clean record gives me hope for a job and maybe even a home of my own.”
Employment and homeownership are the two most crucial, potentially life-changing events impacted by a veteran’s criminal record. Housing authorities will deny an otherwise eligible veteran a placement based on a single prior drug conviction. Employers rarely consider applicants with a felony record.
“The men and women we serve are good people seeking a better life,” Haenlein says. “Many are in our intensive substance abuse treatment program REST, working hard through classes and programs five days a week, and we owe it to them to give them the best opportunity for a second chance at personal success.”
“I understand that this isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Anthony says. “But, getting my crimes expunged would help me become a productive member of society again.”
And, he’ll no longer be haunted by the actions of a man he no longer recognizes.
“I’m working to earn a management level position in customer service, possibly the food service industry, and to acquire my own home,” Anthony says.
His fellow veteran, Keith, plans to go return to college to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in paralegal services at IUPUI.