Thursday, March 11, 2010

Courts Assisting Veterans

Courts Assisting Veterans
A Collaborative Approach to Help Veterans and Communities

Veteran Population:
· More than 23,400,000
· Almost 2 million have served in Iraq and Afghanistan

Lessons learned from prior wars:
· Psychologically injured veterans by the hundreds of thousands never received treatment.
· Lack of psychological treatment can result in long term, harmful consequences:
o Violent behavior
o Poor impulse control
o Homelessness
o Drug and alcohol abuse
o Family stress
o Incarceration
· Almost ten per cent of people incarcerated are veterans. In some communities, twenty per cent of the homeless are veterans.

Many veterans suffer from PTSD and cognitive dysfunction.
· All wars result in psychological damage to soldiers.
· Terms like “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” have been used to describe the phenomena in prior wars.

There is more PTSD arising from service in Iraq and Afghanistan than prior wars.
· Most active duty troops served at least two tours, many four or five.
· Incidence of PTSD increases with each tour.
· Frontline and rear echelon safe areas are not always well defined so soldiers stay on constant alert.
· Little “down time” between deployments.
· Studies show at least 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and perhaps as many as 700,000, suffer from PTSD and depression. The numbers are increasing and only half obtain treatment.
· A common injury for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is Traumatic Brain Injury resulting from exposure to explosions.

Contact by veterans with the criminal justice system can be related to psychological or cognitive injury arising from military service and related addictions or behavior.

Courts Assisting Veterans can provide intervention and treatment as an alternative to criminal proceedings and incarceration.
· Judicial system can identify veterans at their first contact with criminal justice system.
· The Veteran must volunteer to participate.
· Judge retains discretion and supervision.
· Court case worker functions as an officer of the court to:
o Monitors the veteran’s progress and reports to judge.
o Coordinates community resources to evaluate, treat and assist the veteran.
o Provides referrals for assistance with housing, employment, mentoring and other services as needed.

Community participation to “support the troops.”
· VA and VA Service Officers
· Law enforcement
· Prosecutor and Public Defender
· Veterans Organizations
· Foundations and United Way
· Organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Homeless Coalition, Salvation Army and others
· Private professionals like lawyers, psychologists, and social workers

When judges have authority to divert veterans from the criminal justice system, veterans can receive the help and treatment they deserve and the entire community benefits. Public safety is enhanced as compared to a criminal justice punishment model that often results in repeated offenses and incarceration. Communities should save money with a successful program. In Santa Clara, California veterans who completed the program avoided over 168,000 prison days in 2008, saving the state 7.2 million dollars.

A veterans diversion program is not a “get out of jail free card” for veterans. Unless veterans follow through in the program for which they have volunteered, the judge retains authority to proceed with the customary criminal justice procedure.

For more information see:
Mikkelson, Katherine, “Veterans Court Offer Hope and Treatment,” The Public Lawyer, Winter 2010, 2-5
Russell, Judge Robert T., “Veterans Treatment Court: A Proactive Approach,” New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement, Summer 2009, Vol. 35:357-372
Hunter, Brockton D., “Echoes of War,” monograph: to contact go to

This “fact sheet” was prepared by Florida Veterans for Common Sense Inc., a 501 (c) 4 corporation. 100 Wallace Ave., Suite 255, Sarasota, FL 34237 Email:

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