4 Things to Know About Veteran Treatment Courts
U.S. veterans are among the proudest and most noble servicemen and women in the world. They serve their nation with honor and dedication, sacrificing and suffering much to defend freedom and faithfully execute their orders. Sadly, many of these Americans leave for war strong and able-bodied, but return with debilitating physical and mental issues. These issues, along with other challenges of reintegrating into civilian life, often lead to an intersection with civilian law enforcement, via arrests and other disturbances.
According to Justice For Vets, more than half of the 2.6 million U.S. servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan return with mental health conditions related to their service. One in six struggle with addiction, and one in five suffer from PTSD or major depression. 320,000 veterans from these conflicts suffer from a traumatic brain injury. Many seek to self-medicate with alcohol and substance abuse, often leading them down a destructive path.
Currently, there are around 700,000 vets are in the criminal justice system, with many incarcerated for crimes related to their injuries and conditions. While veterans should and must be held to the same standards regarding civil law, many cities and states are experimenting with new Veteran Treatment Courts, a veteran-only option for helping people find the help they need, stop the cycle of law enforcement involvement, and truly improve their lives and the lives of their families.
Here are four things you should know about Veteran Treatment Court
- Veterans Treatment Court Judges Understand Veteran Issues
Judges in most civilian courthouses face a wide range of infractions and citizens on a daily basis. They are not able to focus solely on the plight of veterans and learn more about the specific challenges they face and what alternative methods can help them. Having a veteran-only docket, such as the one in a Veterans Treatment Court, allows the judge to specialize and build on their knowledge of the military and veteran issues, and to make more beneficial judgments.
These veteran-only courtrooms are also often filled with additional veterans resources that can help move a veteran to recovery. For example, a Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist from the VA is often present during the court docket with a laptop computer, able to access confidential medical records, make treatment appointments, and communicate important information to the court. Similarly, a representative from the Veterans Benefit Administration may be present to ensure that veterans receive disability compensation, as well as education and training benefits. Experts from local Veterans Service Organizations and State Departments of Veterans Affairs are often involved to help veterans with additional local and state resources.
- The Structure of the Treatment Courts Mirrors the Military System
Some veterans returning from war and/or retiring from their service often find it difficult to operate in a world with so little structure and such vague hierarchy. The Veteran Treatment Court is specifically structured to mirror the military system, with the judge becoming the commanding office, and the volunteering veteran mentors becoming members of the veterans outfit or squad. During hearings, the veteran stands before the judge at parade rest and answers “Yes, sir/No, sir,” or “Yes, ma’am, no ma’a,m.” The small but important differences can help a veteran feel more relaxed and aware of what to expect.
- Veterans Are Paired Up with Other Veteran Mentors to Increase Success Rates
Most Veteran Treatment Courts employ Veteran Mentor Corps to help improve morale and provide motivational support to the veteran. Members of the Mentor Corps meet and talk to their clients regularly to ensure they are meeting all requirements, and to talk about any issues that may arise. Because they themselves are veterans, they have a special understanding of what the veteran may be experiencing, and offer tips to help them meet the requirements set out by the judge.
Volunteer Mentors undergo training the covers topics like roles and responsibilities, boundaries, and issues typically faced by veterans, as well as how to swiftly connect their mentees to state and local resources and benefits they have earned. These mentors often attend a military-style training boot camp and take an oath to leave no fellow veteran behind, to hold them to the highest standard, and to give them the support that only another veteran can offer. Having another person you can speak to, who understands the challenges of returning from war – the memories, the loss, and the struggles – can make all the difference in the life of a veteran working through a difficult time.
- Veteran Treatment Courts Are Located Across the Nation
There are hundreds of Veteran Treatment Courts located across the U.S. In eaceh communities, the procedure may differ a bit, but typically when a veteran is arrested for non-violent infractions, they may be asked about their service. The option to attend a Veterans Treatment Court may be given, and a veteran can voluntarily choose to utilize this resource as opposed to a traditional court process. However, just as with a typical court setting, the judge in Veterans Treatment Courts will the law in mind, and set out explicit expectations for the veteran that must be followed to avoid arrest or re-arrest.
For veterans not living within close proximity of a Veterans Treatment Center, the VA’s Veterans Justice Outreach initiative (VJO) may be able to help. Under VJO, each VA Medical Center has a designated justice outreach specialist who functions as a link between VA, veterans, and the local justice system. They serve both incarcerated veterans and justice-involved veterans who have not been incarcerated, and work with the courts to help eligible veterans get mental health assessment, treatment planning, and referrals to VA services. VJO specialists communicate with officers of the court about veterans' compliance with VA treatment programs, and they may also assist in training law enforcement personnel on issues such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury. To find your local resource, see VJO specialists contact page.
The average cost to keep a person in prison is more than $22,000 a year. This year, approximately 11,000 veterans received help from alternative Veterans Treatment Courts, and the courts are reporting a 98% success rate. If all of these veterans had instead been sent to prison, the cost for the taxpayer would have reached $258 million. The Veterans Treatment Courts not only benefit the veteran and his or her family, but are a positive impact to society as well.
Written by Megan Hammons