Veteran Drug Courts Are Now Needed More than Ever

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Over five years ago, SFTT met with Judge John Schwartz,  one of the early pioneers in the Veteran Court system.  Discussing the rationale for Vet Courts, Judge Schwartz stated the following “We offer hope to these troubled veterans who have served our country so valiantly.  It’s simply common sense.”

Today, Vet Courts are needed more than ever to help Veterans recover their lives.   Indeed, when one reads that the “the modern opioid epidemic originated within the healthcare system,” one must be simply oblivious to the plight of Veterans if we choose to penalize them once again.

Homeless Veteran

Drug Courts began to emerge in the nineties to deal more effectively with a growing drug problem in the United States.  As SFTT wrote earlier,

“Since the mid-1990, the US judicial system has recognized the need to deal with drug-related criminal activity and have established some 2,600 Drug Treatment Courts in the United States.  Drug treatment courts are specialized community courts designed to help stop the abuse of drugs, alcohol, and related criminal activity. Non-violent offenders who have been charged with simple possession of drugs are given the option to receive treatment instead of a jail sentence.   These programs have proven to be remarkably successful for reducing the level of recidivism in our prison system.

Capitalizing on the infrastructure and success of the Drug Treatment Courts, some 50 or so Veteran Courts (now reportedly 300) have sprung up across the United States to deal with veterans who have committed a crime while suffering from substance abuse.  In many cases, these troubled vets have the support of other Vets (often from the Vietnam era) who “mentor” their military colleagues through the rehabilitation process.

This descriptive video from Justice for Vets provides a useful overview of why our Veterans deserves a better choice than incarceration:

Thanks to Judge Schwartz and other inspired leaders in our judicial and police system, Veteran Courts have expanded all across the United States.  Nevertheless, NPR reported earlier this year that many more Vet Courts are required.  Specifically, NPR noted that some states still do not have a Vet Court and that North Carolina has only 3 when the evidence suggests that we require 17.

As SFTT and others have reported in the past, Veterans with PTSD and TBI have been largely neglected by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).  Veterans suffering from brain trauma often resort to substance abuse to curb pain and many resort to crime to support their habits.  Should we penalize these brave Veterans for our collective failings to provide our Veterans with the support they deserve?

SFTT would like to thank the many Veterans and volunteers in the legal profession who give of their time to support our Veterans through an often confusing legal system.

When communities reach out to help these brave warriors, our society is enriched. From our perspective, it’s simply a matter of doing the right thing!  We owe these brave young men and women big time!

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Treating Warriors with PTSD

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Last weekend, I had the privilege of visiting Warriors Salute in Rochester, NY which has an innovative and expanding program to treat veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from PTSD.   I was fortunate to attend a training seminar hosted by Dr. Henry Grayson, Ph. D., for the clinical staff of Warriors Salute.  Dr. Grayson is the eminent psychologist who founded and directed the National Institute for the Psychotherapies in New York City and the author of Use Your Body to Heal Your Mind.    He is also a founding member of SFTT’s Medical Task Force to help address the large and growing problem of veterans suffering from PTSD.

While SFTT will report more on Dr. Grayson’s innovative approach to treating trauma, it is evident that there is no “magic bullet” to deal with the tragic consequences of veterans suffering from PTSD.  With at least 1 in 5 veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD, the ongoing cost to our society is enormous.   Unfortunately, our military court system and the V.A. are structured in such a way that many veterans suffering from PTSD may be effectively deprived of proper treatment.

In a far-reaching report summarized by Howard Altman of the Tampa Tribune, Major Evan R. Seamone, a member of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, argues that “courts-martial function as problem-generating courts when they result in punitive discharges that preclude mentally ill offenders from obtaining Veterans Affairs treatment. Such practices create a class of individuals whose untreated conditions endanger public safety and the veteran as they grow worse over time.”     In fact, Major Seamone’s 212 page report for the Military Law Journal may be accessed by clicking on this hyperlink:   The Military Court system and PTSD.

Major Seamone’s observations are clearly “on-target” when it comes to dealing with veterans suffering from PTSD.  Many – if not most – veterans who suffer from PTSD also have a substance abuse problem.   In fact, one experienced addiction specialist suggested that “upwards of 80% of veterans suffering from PTSD also have an addiction problem.”   Unfortunately, the V.A. and our military courts tend to address PTSD and substance abuse as separate issues thereby depriving large numbers of veterans with the comprehensive treatment they deserve.   Sadly, substance abuse is a common opiate for those that suffer from combat-related trauma.

Since the mid-1990, the US judicial system has recognized the need to deal with drug-related criminal activity and have established some 2,600 Drug Treatment Courts in the United States.  Drug treatment courts are specialized community courts designed to help stop the abuse of drugs, alcohol, and related criminal activity. Non-violent offenders who have been charged with simple possession of drugs are given the option to receive treatment instead of a jail sentence.   These programs have proven to be remarkably successful for reducing the level of recidivism in our prison system.

Capitalizing on the infrastructure and success of the Drug Treatment Courts, some 50 or so Veteran Courts have sprung up across the United States to deal with veterans who have committed a crime while suffering from substance abuse.  In many cases, these troubled vets have the support of other Vets (often from the Vietnam era) who “mentor” their military colleagues through the rehabilitation process.   Judge John Schwartz,  one of the early pioneers in the Vet Court system, said that “We offer hope to these troubled veterans who have served our country so valiantly.  It’s simply common sense.”

When communities reach out to help these brave warriors, our society is enriched. From our perspective, it’s simply a matter of doing the right thing!  We owe these brave young men and women big time!

Richard W. May

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