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.”
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.
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.