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As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Connecticut, groups renew call for release of incarcerated veterans

By JULIA BERGMAN | The Day, New London, Conn. | Published: November 11, 2020

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NEW LONDON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — On Veterans Day, as Connecticut continues to battle a rise in COVID-19 cases, several veterans organizations in the state are renewing their call to release veterans from state prisons who are low-level offenders and at heightened risk for contracting COVID-19, and to better protect incarcerated veterans.

Led by the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, run by brothers and veterans Garry and Conley Monk, the organizations wrote to Gov. Ned Lamont and state Department of Correction Commissioner Designee Angel Quiros on Wednesday, saying, "the current resurgence of COVID-19 cases puts the hundreds of veterans currently incarcerated in the state at immense risk, not only in terms of their ability to survive the pandemic but also their capacity to cope while incarcerated and their ability to (reenter) society after their sentences are complete."

"Connecticut veterans are both older than the national average for veterans and the average for Connecticut residents, putting them at greater risk for complications from COVID-19," the letter says. "Many have service-connected disabilities that both heighten the severity of the virus and compromise their ability to deal with the physical- and mental-health challenges that the virus poses."

The letter includes a list of six demands that the organizations are urging the state to take to protect incarcerated veterans, including health measures such as enforcing a more stringent social-distancing policy for staff when they are in shared enclosed spaces with incarcerated individuals and ensuring personal hygiene supplies are readily available to incarcerated individuals and corrections staff. They also are asking for more access to mental health services and for socially distanced programming led by military and veteran service organizations be offered to support the rehabilitation and reentry needs of veterans.

Quiros sent a letter to DOC staff last month, saying the agency has created a stockpile of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and reminded them to wear masks, continue to practice social distancing and frequently wash their hands. Currently, 84 DOC staff are recovering from COVID-19, and four inmates are classified as symptomatic, according to the DOC's COVID-19 tracker. Since the start of the pandemic until Nov. 6, the DOC is reporting that 1,686 offenders have tested positive for the disease and seven have died.

"The Department of Correction and the governor have the power to act now to protect veterans. Our asks are simple: enforce social distancing, provide basic cleaning supplies, offer sufficient mental health resources, and allow access to basic legal services," Garry Monk, an Air Force veteran, said.

NVCLR, which advocates on behalf of veterans and offers them support in obtaining employment, medical and educational benefits, and meals, clothing, transportation and housing, joined by other organizations, first wrote to the governor and DOC in April 2020, when Connecticut was at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, asking for at-risk incarcerated veterans to be released.

"For months, we have all seen what terrible damage that COVID-19 can do, and so now more than ever, it is essential that we protect incarcerated veterans from this deadly virus," said Conley Monk, a Marine Corps veteran who was formerly incarcerated. "If Connecticut is unwilling to take the simple step of releasing at-risk veterans, then it at least must protect those it keeps in prison by providing them with the basic necessities to keep their minds and bodies safe from the effects of COVID-19."

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School is representing NVCLR in this matter.

j.bergman@theday.com

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