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The VVA Veteran Reviews Prelude

Prelude was recently reviewed by David Wilson, a reviewer from the site “Books in Review II.” Wilson's review eloquently chronicles his reaction to the novel alongside his own experience in Vietnam. "I highly recommend this novel, both as a good read and as a glimpse into the lives of...

SD Sawyer

Should Veterans Get Their Own Courts?

The concept of “specialized courts” is nothing new.  For years, courts have heard cases specializing in issues of domestic violence, chemical dependency, juvenile delinquency, even gambling.

Over three years ago, New York implemented a justice system that recognizes the unique mental health issues, including PTSD, that veterans can experience, particularly when deployed in combat areas.  These “invisible wounds of combat” manifest themselves in many ways and varying degrees.  But once veterans enter the criminal justice system in a state that has Veterans Court, there seems to be hope for authentic rehabilitation.

Accused veterans must meet various eligibility requirements to be accepted into these programs. They must agree to treatment as deemed necessary after evaluation, and express a willingness to enter into rehabilitation and treatment.  Incarceration alone has not proven to help veterans heal or recover.

Veterans courts in many cases are presided over by judges who have some military background or affiliation.  Ideally, they are able to understand the transitional struggles confronting those veterans standing before the court. The court’s purpose is to determine which programs might best serve the defendant by recognizing underlying problems that initially caused the legal system to become involved.

NPR quotes Pentagon statistics that 1 in 5 of the 1.6 million veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers with PTSD and varying mental health problems. Some soldiers who would benefit from programs already in place might initially reject assistance.  As difficulties and frustration mount, the inability to adapt intensifies, providing a climate for confrontations that could end up in the criminal justice system.

The men and women who served our country deserve better. They deserve to live well-adjusted, healthy, happy lives.  As a country, we owe them when they need treatment.  To those who claim we can’t afford Veterans courts, look at the research.  Though initiated only a few years ago, recidivism rate among veterans who have completed the program is as low or lower than 1%. In New York, where the program was first implemented, Buffalo cites 0% recidivism.  Many of these courts serve veterans of any era, not just those back from the current wars. Taxpayers are being saved hundreds of thousands of dollars that would otherwise go into the prison system.

It’s working!  Why? Probably for lots of reasons, but consider these two. Trained, volunteer mentors are waiting, ready to help these defendants, one-to-one. Many are veterans themselves.  And this program offers the discipline and camaraderie veterans had grown familiar with when they were in the service—  the kind they knew they could trust.   If Veterans court hasn’t reached your area, find out why not!

For further information, check the following sites:

http://www.nadcp.org/vets          http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/opinion/11castille.html

http://www.erie.gov/veterans/veterans_court.asp

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