Most veterans are strengthened by their military service, but the combat experience has unfortunately left a growing number of veterans with PTSD, other mental health issues, or 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 or 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. Recognizing this problem, many local communities have developed special Veterans Treatment Courts that seek to provide veterans suffering from these issues assistance that will help keep them from slipping into real legal problems.
Why Have A Special Court For Veterans?
There is much documented evidence that a significant number of the Veterans who returned from the Vietnam conflict experienced rather severe problems adjusting to civilian life. Many Veterans remained untreated for a long period of time. The VA and local courts recognize that that many of the Veterans today are also returning home with mental health issues that, left untreated, can result in much larger problems.
An early sign that a Veteran may have unaddressed problems may be when they first break the law. The Veterans Court offers opportunity for the VA, local support organizations, and local communities to engage Veterans and offer treatment as an alternative to time in jail. Men and women who have served the country are entitled to the best care the VA can provide.
Although most courts work with Veterans of all service eras, communities are often motivated to start these courts by concerns about Veterans returning from service and encountering legal trouble.
The Goal Of Veterans Treatment Courts
The goal of Veterans Treatment Courts is to divert those with mental health issues and homelessness from the traditional justice system and to give them treatment and tools for rehabilitation and readjustment.
Veterans Treatment Courts were developed to avoid unnecessary incarceration of Veterans who have developed mental health problems. Veterans facing criminal charges who are in need of mental health or substance use treatment may be eligible for Veterans Treatment Court, if they live in one of the growing number of communities where these courts exist.
Veterans Treatment Courts are hybrid Drug and Mental Health Courts that serve veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental illness and/or co-occurring disorders. They promote sobriety, recovery, and stability through a coordinated response that involves cooperation and collaboration with the traditional partners found in Drug and Mental Health Courts, with the addition of the VA, volunteer veteran mentors, and veterans and Veterans' family support organizations.
What Type Of Crimes Are Referred To A Veterans Court?
Usually Veterans Courts hear cases involving misdemeanor charges other than those involving sexual offenses or violent crimes. This varies by local and state laws. A Veteran’s participation in treatment court is always voluntary. Veterans who choose to participate are assessed by a mental health professional and their treatment needs are determined.
What Are the Usual Outcomes of a Hearing in Veterans Court?
Most Veteran participants receive treatment through VA’s health network, although some courts also work with Veterans who are not eligible for VA care. Those Veterans receive care from community health providers.
While Veterans Treatment Court allows the Veteran to remain in the community while undergoing treatment, a judge regularly checks on the Veteran’s progress. If the Veteran fails to meet the requirements of the program — for example, if he or she fails drug screenings or disobeys court orders — the Court will impose sanctions which may include community service, fines, jail time, or transfer out of Veterans Treatment back to a traditional criminal court. Research shows that treatment court judges are motivators who provide ongoing encouragement to participants as they undertake the difficult work of recovery.
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.
Veterans Treatment Courts enable participants’ likelihood of successful rehabilitation through early, continuous and intense judicially-supervised treatment. Veterans Treatment Courts also serve as a “one-stop-shop” to link veterans with services, benefits and program providers, including the VA, Veterans Service Organizations and volunteer veteran mentors.
See the Justice for Vets: Veterans Treatment Court Resources site to learn more.