Veteran Treatment Courts and MTA

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a wonderful Judge in Syracuse who had presided over countless cases involving Veterans that were administered under the guidelines of the Veteran Treatment Court or “Vet Court.”

SFTT and Razoo Support Veterans

For those unfamiliar with Vet Courts, please find below a brief summary from SFTT’s article entitled “Veteran Treatment Courts and PTSD“:

A byproduct of the 1995 Crime Bill, the Veterans Treatment Court (Vets Court for short) is a way for Veterans facing jail time to avoid incarceration. If they accept, they are assigned to a mentoring Veteran and must remain drug-free for two years, obtain a high school diploma and have a steady job at the end  of the probation period. This may seem like a good deal, but the path to recover their lives is difficult and fraught with temptation, particularly for those Veterans with PTSD.

In effect, the Vet Court allows Veterans faced with incarceration the opportunity to reclaim their life under the tutelage of another Veteran.  In the case of Syracuse, Veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could often lean on a Vet from Vietnam.  CLICK HERE for a directory of Vet Courts across the United States.

Lest you suspect that the judicial system had run amok, Drug Treatment courts reduced the level of recidivism by almost two-thirds.   In effect, this novel approach to rehabilitation actually cut down on repeat offenders and helped many brave Veterans cope from the traumas of their military experience. It is nice to see such bipartisan support for this initiative.

While the focus of SFTT has been on helping “at-risk” warriors with PTSD get help, we were surprised at the policies of the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) which VA “has very strict rules on issuing prescription medication to Veterans with documented substance abuse problems. In other words, it may be difficult for Veterans to receive proper treatment for PTSD if substance abuse and PTSD are treated as mutually exclusive problems. This clearly introduces a level of difficulty for the VA in providing the type of comprehensive rehabilitation treatment these Vets deserve.”

While the VA continues to be hamstrung by many of its archaic policies and procedures to deal with PTSD, it is wonderful to see that some local Drug Treatment Courts are taking matters into their own hands.

For instance, the Pierce County Drug Court is incorporating medication-assisted treatment into their court-directed rehabilitation programs

A recent news article from Washington state highlights the outstanding work of the Pierce County Drug Court, one of the longest-standing drug courts in the country, and its effort to effectively incorporate MAT into their program. The court is seeing remarkable success for those participants for whom medication—such as naltrexone, methadone, or buprenorphine—is deemed medically appropriate.

While it is difficult to determine at this stage whether these programs will be effective, it is evident that local communities – aided by a progressive judicial system – is working to curb addiction and help Veterans reclaim their lives.

The Pierce County Drug Court is to be applauded and SFTT hopes that other Drug Treatment Courts will adopt similar approaches to help Veterans cope with substance abuse.

SFTT News: Highlights for the Week Ending Sep 9, 2016

Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Trump and Clinton

Candidates Trump and Clint Veer from Addressing Veteran Issues
During the hour-long event hosted by NBC’s Matt Lauer, the candidates indeed touched on veterans issues, notably waits for appointments at Veterans Affairs Department hospitals and the high number of veterans who die by suicide. But during most of the hour-long event, they focused on other national-security and military matters.   Read more . . .

Unsuccessful Rescue Mission in Afghanistan
U.S. defense officials say that special operations forces launched a rescue mission to retrieve two men kidnapped by insurgents in Afghanistan last month. The hostages were not there when the rescue team arrived.  Read more . . .

North Korea Conducts 5th Nuclear Test
North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in eight months on Friday, raising concerns that Pyongyang has moved a step closer to its goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could one day strike the U.S. mainland.State TV said the atomic detonation — the fifth carried out by Kim Jong Un’s isolated regime — “put on a higher level [the North’s] technology of mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets.”  Read more . . .

Laser Weaponry on the Horizon?
There’s a technological revolution brewing in warfare. Silent and invisible, it relies on high intensity pulses of light to kill or incapacitate, all at the speed of light. After decades of promises and false starts, lasers are at last finally entering military service. And warfare will never be the same.  Read more . . .

 U.S. to Send More Troops to Iraq to Prepare for Mosul Battle
The United States has increased its forces in Iraq by almost 500 troops in the last week to support the operation to take Mosul from the Islamic State group, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday. The increase in personnel and equipment is needed to meet the Iraqi government goal of recapturing Mosul before the end of the year, Col. John Dorrian, the Baghdad-based spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters at the Pentagon.  Read more . . .

Teamwork Key to Preventing Suicides
Staff Sgt. Miguel Sierra vividly recalls himself and his staff handling logistical matters in the aftermath of a sailor committing suicide. As a behavioral specialist and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Army Health Clinic at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Sierra said this experience impressed upon him the importance of teamwork and the need for Soldiers to maintain awareness of signs of distress among their fellow Soldiers.  Read more . . .

Light Therapy in Treating PTSD
After years of studying the effects of near-infrared light on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, a team led by a University of Texas at Arlington bioengineer has published groundbreaking research in Nature’s Scientific Reports that could result in an effective, long-term treatment for brain disorders. Their research is funded in part by a UT System BRAIN or Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies seed grant titled, “Transcranial light therapy and imaging of prefrontal cognition in PTSD.”  Read more . . .

 Georgia Veterans Court Provides Common Sense Rehabilitation Alternative
Nine local veterans recently saved Cobb County taxpayers about $191,610. These four Army veterans, three former Marines, and two Navy vets did not work for free or volunteer their services to a Cobb community organization. Instead the nine veterans, composed of eight men and one woman, successfully completed the 18-month Cobb County Veterans Treatment Court program and avoided potential incarceration. Primarily charged with felonies, these nine veterans easily could have been assigned an inmate number and added to the already bloated census within our Georgia prisons. Or worse, the nine could have become additional statistics in the grim nationwide toll of an estimated 20 veterans who commit suicide daily.  Read more . . .

stealth destroyer

Stealth Destroyer Leaves Bath Iron Works
The largest and most expensive destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy once headed to sea in a snowstorm during trials. Now, it’s heading into the remnants of a tropical storm as it leaves Maine for good. The skipper is watching the weather as the stealthy Zumwalt destroyer prepares to depart from Bath Iron Works on Wednesday en route to its commissioning in Baltimore, and then to its homeport in San Diego. Capt. James Kirk said what’s left of former Hurricane Hermine was creating some strong waves in the North Atlantic, but he said it wouldn’t prevent the ship from departing from the Navy shipbuilder.  Read more . . .

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider becoming a member of Stand For The Troops

Conflicting Messages on Privatizing the VA

It seems like every day we are bombarded with ads, editorials and articles recommending changes in the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) fulfills its mandate to our brave warriors.

Department of Veterans Affairs

On June 30th, the “Commission on Care” released its long-expected report on recommendations to improve care-giving within the VA.  Found below is a broad-brush editorial from the Chicago Times summarizing the findings of the Commission:

Among the commission’s 18 recommendations for a sweeping overhaul: Create a more comprehensive and flexible “VHA care system.” That’s envisioned as a less rigid network of providers including doctors from the VA, military hospitals, other federally funded providers and facilities, and VA-credentialed private doctors and clinics.

The commission also suggests that the current Veterans Choice program be expanded so that all vets can consult private physicians. Good idea: It doesn’t take a specialist in battlefield wounds to prescribe blood pressure meds. In 2014, Congress passed Veterans Choice, which already allows many vets to choose a private physician outside the system if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment.

Now, I don’t find anything particularly alarming or inconsistent with the opinions of others regarding the VA.

As SFTT has suggested on numerous occasion, the Department of Veterans Affairs is simply too large to succeed in its mission.

Never once has SFTT recommended that the VA be privatized.  In fact, the recommendations by the Commission on Care seem more in line with a common-sense approach to providing Veterans the services they require and not necessarily the services the VA is prepared to provide.

Nevertheless, the “privatization of the VA” has now been turned into a campaign issue and pundits on either side are weighing in with positions that seem totally ludicrous if carefully analyzed in the light of the Commission’s report.

For instance, VoteVets launched for following $500,000 ad campaign suggesting that there is a conspiracy to privatize the VA.

 

This ad, while heart-wrenching, is from Vote Vets, which describes itself as as “the largest progressive organization of veterans in America.”

When someone goes out of their way to label themselves as a “progressive,” or “conservative,” or “liberal,” or any other “emotive” or “politically tarnished” label – I immediately dismiss their views as muddled and little more than self-serving rubbish.

Mind you, their “politically-scrubbed” views could be fair and useful, but I always suspect an ulterior agenda that lacks intellectual rigor and clear thinking. These ads have the appearance of propaganda rather than honesty.

In fact, I would go one step further: propaganda or deceptive promotions from politically or financially biased organizations are certainly misleading and probably fraudulent.

With its $180 billion annual budget, the VA is target for any number of lobbyist groups.   It is not surprising that the number of recorded lobbyist visits to the VA continue to remain high according to OpenSecrets.org:

Lobbyist Visits to the VA

Clearly the suggested reforms by the Commission have triggered outcries among the 230,000 employees of the VA that would no doubt be impacted by a “more-responsive” VA.

As the war of words continues on blocking much needed change within the VA, it is unlikely that Veterans will see any meaningful change in the services provided by the VA.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, the blowback on the Commission’s reasonable report is little more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Sadly, the brave men and women who have proudly worn the uniform of our country will not receive the reforms and support they need as they try to recover their lives. The onus is on us to put an end to self-serving political agendas.

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