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STARS, BARS, AND STRIPES: A HISTORY OF INCARCERATED VETERANS SINCE THE VIETNAM WAR

Abstract
Based primarily on oral history interviews with nearly 60 US military veterans, this research has uncovered the relationship between military-related trauma, discriminatory policies, and the incarceration of veterans. During the Vietnam War-era, tens of thousands of veterans were punished for behavioral incidents related to psychiatric trauma and/or institutional racism, given punitive discharges, and consequently denied access to the Veterans Administration. Less than honorable discharges disqualify veterans from receiving a range of benefits, including disability compensation, counseling service, and the G.I. Bill. The impact of various forms of discrimination, combined with the consequences of psychiatric trauma, have led to tens of thousands of military veterans in prison and jails since the Vietnam War era. After policy changes following the War on Drugs, incarcerated veteran populations doubled between the end of the war in Vietnam and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. “Stars, Bars & Stripes” examines how trauma, disability, discrimination, discharge status, substance use, and the disparities in the criminal justice system led to the imprisonment of veterans during the age of mass incarceration. This project also tells the story of how veterans have organized for reforms and greater access to rehabilitation, arguing that Vietnam veterans and their advocates have created a grassroots criminal justice reform movement as a collective response to military-related trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST), and moral injury. Across the United States, Vietnam veterans volunteer in their local communities in Veteran Treatment Courts, offering mentorship to post-9/11 veterans and building a trauma-informed model for criminal justice reform. By studying a range of historical experiences from the Vietnam War to the Global War on Terror, this work makes previously unacknowledged connections across foreign and domestic policies, centering the experiences of incarcerated veterans in the history of the carceral state.
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campusfive
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dissertation
Date
2021-09-01
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2026-09-01T00:00:00-07:00
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