What is a Veterans Treatment Court?
Most veterans are strengthened by their military service, but the combat experience has unfortunately left a growing number of veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance abuse issue. Research continues to draw a link between substance abuse and combat–related mental illness. Left untreated, mental health disorders common among veterans can directly lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.
The Veterans Treatment Court model requires regular court appearances (a bi-weekly minimum in the early phases of the program), as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions and frequent and random testing for substance use (drug and/or alcohol). Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment given their past experiences in the Armed Forces. However, a few will struggle and it is exactly those veterans who need a Veterans Treatment Court program the most. Without this structure, these veterans will reoffend and remain in the criminal justice system. The Veterans Treatment Court is able to ensure they meet their obligations to themselves, the court, and their community.
WHY A VETERANS-ONLY DOCKET?
A Better Understanding
Veterans Treatment Courts allow jurisdictions to serve a large segment of the justice-involved veteran population as opposed to business as usual – having all veterans appear before random judges who may or may not have an understanding of their unique problems. Because a Veterans Treatment Court judge handles numerous veterans' cases and is supported by a strong, interdisciplinary team, he or she is in a much better position to exercise discretion and effectively respond than a judge who only occasionally hears a case involving a veteran defendant. A Veterans Treatment Court judge better understands the issues that a veteran may be struggling with, such as substance addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and military sexual trauma. A Veterans Treatment Court judge is also more familiar with the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Administration, State Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Service Organizations, and volunteer Veteran Mentors and how they all can assist veteran defendants.
Camaraderie Among Those Who Served
Veterans Treatment Courts are tapping into the unique aspects of military and veteran culture and using it to the benefit of the veteran. Through these unique courts, those who served in our nation’s Armed Forces are allowed to participate in the treatment court process with their fellow veterans, re-instilling a sense of camaraderie that they felt while in the military. The Veterans Treatment Court is the military unit: the judge becomes the Commanding Officer, the Veteran Mentors become fire team leaders, the court team becomes the company staff, and the veteran defendants become the troops. For those who have spent any time in traditional criminal courts, a visit to a Veterans Treatment Court is somewhat of a revelation. Veteran defendants are standing before the judge at parade rest, saying “Yes, ma’am/sir” or “No, ma’am/sir,” and there is interaction with and support from their fellow veterans.
In addition, Veterans Treatment Courts act as a “one-stop shop,” linking veterans with the programs, benefits and services they have earned. For example, the Veterans Health Administration's Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist, or VJO, is present during the court docket with a laptop computer able to access confidential medical records, make treatment appointments, and communicate this information to the court. The Veterans Benefit Administration may provide a representative to ensure that veterans receive disability compensation, and education and training benefits. Veterans Service Organizations and State Departments of Veterans Affairs assist veterans with additional local and state resources, while volunteer Veteran Mentors provide morale and motivational support. These team members are not employed by the criminal justice system and normally would not be present at the courthouse. Consolidating justice-involved veterans onto a single docket permits these individuals to actively support those in need of their help.