February 17, 2017, by Brooke Faulkner – Veteran’s Treatment Court is a special court model that pairs legally-entangled veterans of the US armed services with judges who understand the complexities of life after military service. According to the Center for Military Health Policy Research, one in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. Alcohol and drug use is a common coping mechanism that gets many vets into trouble with the law.
Judge John Roach of the Collin County Veteran’s Court asserts that “vets’ struggles go unnoticed because they do not readily talk about the issues they must be facing.”
The solution, instead of throwing a mentally distressed veteran who got a DUI into the criminal justice system, is to introduce him or her to a special court. Veterans Court is a way to ask the veteran to address the crime itself through probation and community service, but also encourage them to acknowledge the mental and emotional struggles they’re facing. The program requires regular court appearances, treatment sessions, and random substance abuse testing. It’s considered tougher than a regular probation period through the normal court system, but the framework complements the strengths of many military men and women who have proven their ability in a structured environment.
The veterans walk away with an unblemished criminal record which, as Judge Roach puts it, “Mirrors the honorable way each [vet] served our country.”
Suffice it to say, Veteran’s Court is a good thing. At the very least it’s a means of compassion and gratitude for a person’s service. At most, it saves lives. That’s why it is important to understand how recent national policy changes may be endangering Veterans Court. Time for a visit to Texas.
In early February 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott punished Travis County (aka Austin and the surrounding area) for their lenient immigrant sanctuary policies by pulling a $1.5 million grant from the county. The grant constituted 90% of the county’s budget, paying for programs like family violence education, anti-prostitution programs, and of course Veteran’s Court.
When confronted about pulling so much funding, the Governor’s office responded, “criminal justice grants must be used to uphold the justice system and cannot be wasted on local governments intent on undermining it.” No matter where a person falls on immigration issues, from the most conservative to the most liberal, it is quite clear that there is something deeply wrong with that sentiment. When the justice system harms the people more than helps them, the very core of the institution needs to be confronted. And of all the populations to punish, it’s sickening to think that a government wouldn’t think twice about ruining the lives of the men and women who have given everything to serve their country.
Creating and changing public policy should not be left to a single individual with an agenda. There is a reason why such work has historically belonged to groups of lawmakers, people who’ve dedicated years of academic study to the ins and outs of policy formulation and implementation. That’s because a policy change that is not carefully considered, like the recent immigration upheavals, can all too easily lead to repercussions that no one in their right minds would support.
Veterans Court has an 83% success rate – that means that 83% of the men and women facing criminal charges who complete the program are never arrested again. If that’s not a program worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.
Author Bio: Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two and writer based in Portland, Oregon. She loves anything to do with historical nonfiction.