Veterans of war — and prison

DELAWARE COUNTY. At age 29, Neil was struggling with alcohol abuse and lacked the formal education to land a decent job.

Headed in a downward spiral, he wound up in jail for six years after a conviction for aggravated assault. But it wasn’t a yearning to run the streets or a propensity for fast money that led to his fate – it was the Navy.

The Gulf War veteran, who enlisted at 18, claims he got virtually no support when he was discharged in 1997 and had little skills valued by employers. He’s just now finding out about services from Veterans Affairs.

“I been on parole since May. I just have nowhere to go,” the former Allentown resident said inside SCI Chester, a state facility designed for inmates with substance abuse.

In 2007, veterans accounted for about 6 percent of the prison population, down from 10 percent in 2004. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Delco, said he wants to see money for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) spent more wisely and a new veterans court to address substance abuse issues.

“If we got them the treatment we’re talking about earlier they may not be here,” Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, said yesterday following his trip to the Chester facility. “We wouldn’t have the crime that hurt society, we wouldn’t have the cost of them being here.”