Today it is well understood that military veterans returning from war may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 13.8% of military members returning from Afghanistan or Iraq experience PTSD symptoms. With just under 3 million veterans in 2016 having served in those wars, there are 412,000 veterans that may have PTSD at any one time.
While PTSD has become a common part of today’s vernacular, SUD, or Substance Use Disorder, has not. According to the VA 2 out of every 10 PTSD sufferers also have a substance abuse issue. An SUD can be either excessive use of alcohol or narcotics. The combined effects of PTSD and a SUD can result in aberrant behavior, sometimes criminal.
Of concern is when a veteran suffering from PTSD and/or SUD runs afoul of the law, there is no special docket in the state of Virginia that can consider the mitigating factors which led to a crime. According to a recent article, 1 in 10 prisoners have a military background. And there is evidence to support the creation of special Problem Solving Courts specific for veterans to address this statistic by reducing the number of veterans going to jail, and instead have them enter treatment programs.
Veterans Courts are based on the mental health and drug courts created in the 80s – a special docket for offenders who meet certain criteria. In the case of a Veterans Court, offenders can enter into a treatment program for mental health or substance abuse issues, all while being monitored by a judge. Proponents for the program claim that Veterans Courts are cost-effective and decrease recidivism in the participants. Former head of the VA Eric Shinseki is a strong supporter of Veteran Courts.
The first Veterans Court was created in New York in 2008, and has since grown to over 17 states, according to Justice for Vets, a division of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. A bill was introduced in 2015 in the Virginia Assembly to create a Problem Solving Court, but died in committee. A new bill has been introduced in the 2017 assembly, but was also left in committee prior to the adjournment of the 2017 session.
One of the benefits of a Veterans Court is that violent offenders can participate. And veterans are more likely to commit violent offenses than nonveteran criminals. According to the Department of Justice, 64% of veterans were sentenced for violent offenses, as opposed to 48% for nonveterans.
Data derived from Dept of Justice,
created by Bob Abbott using MS PowerPoint
It is unsure if the bill in the Virginia legislature will be voted on during the 2018 session. To contact your local Virginia legislator, please use this link: http://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/