The theme for Rep. Jake Wheatley’s annual Health and Wellness Weekend In this month’s column, Rep. Jake Wheatley discusses expanding the Clean Slate Law as a commitment to helping veterans.

Photo: Office of Rep. Wheatley

It’s almost hard to imagine that it’s been 20 years since one of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil occurred. The loss of so many lives—in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and New York City—is still beyond painful. In the days, weeks, and months to come after 9-11, our first responders, veterans, survivors, and their loved ones mourned, rebuilt, and worked together to begin to heal from this unimaginable tragedy.

In particular, our veterans carried an enormous weight on their shoulders, including those who were called to serve in the war against terrorism stateside and overseas. Many of these men and women were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, commonly known as PTS. Others suffered severe injuries during their service to our country, including traumatic brain injury (TBI).

It’s a sad truth, but one that must be acknowledged, that many of our veterans continue to suffer from an undiagnosed, service-connected mental health disorder or injuries, severely impacting their ability to readjust to civilian life. That readjustment can also include struggles involving the criminal justice system.

Some of you may know I served our country as a U.S. Marine during the Gulf War under Operation Desert Storm. To be honest, I rarely discuss my military career, but as a disabled veteran who experienced the challenges of being diagnosed with traumas related to my service, I do believe that this is one time where my service and personal experiences give me a valuable perspective in finding ways to better assist and protect our veterans.

To that end, I have introduced H.B.1633, which would expand and build upon the Clean Slate Law by providing limited access to criminal records when a medical professional certifies a veteran has an undiagnosed, service-connected medical issue, such as PTS or TBI. I strongly believe that these veterans, who have committed a crime and fully served their penalty before their diagnosis, deserve the right to build a better life at home, without a criminal record following them at every turn, especially if they did not receive adequate medical care following their military service. Just to be clear, my bill would not permit clean slate provisions for violent offenses; it only expands upon who is eligible.

It’s clear that mental health disorders and TBIs have a significant effect on how people operate in their daily lives. Having undiagnosed or a lack of proper treatment for these and other medical conditions may contribute to interaction with law enforcement, resulting in a criminal record.

We must do all we can to help and assist our veterans returning to their communities following their service, and I will do all I can to support and assist them.If you or someone you care about is a veteran and needs assistance, please contact The People’s Office at 412-471-7760 or reach out by email to RepWheatley@pahouse.net.

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