VISTA, Calif. (AP) _ A cellblock painted red, white and blue has been reserved for U.S. military veterans at the San Diego County Jail in Vista, as part of a new program initiated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The mission of the Veterans Moving Forward program is to encourage camaraderie and keep veterans from returning to jail by helping them gain job skills, find housing and undergo treatment for mental illness, the U-T San Diego reported for a story Saturday.

``The ultimate goal is transitioning them back to the community,'' Sheriff Bill Gore said.

The 32 inmate veterans who moved into the special housing unit on Nov. 1 had applied for the privilege and agreed to take part in classes that began the following Monday, Vista Jail Capt. Erika Frierson told the newspaper.

Frierson said the jail was chosen as the first in the county to offer the program because of its location near Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base and larger percentage of military inmates.

There are an estimated 250,000 veterans in the county, Gore said. Of the approximately 5,800 inmates in the seven county jails, about 270 are veterans, according to the newspaper.

Jail counselors in the veterans dormitory work closely with nonprofit organizations, social service providers and the VA's Veterans Justice Outreach Program to continue services after a prisoner gets released.

Angela Simoneau, a specialist with the outreach program, said it's being used in 23 jails and prisons across the country, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. Some measure of its success is that the veterans keep their cells neater, and get into fewer fights than other inmates, she said.