For many veterans, adjusting to life in the civilian world after years in the military can be difficult and can sometimes feel like an insurmountable challenge. The majority of veterans and enlisted military personnel integrate back into civilian life without interacting with the criminal justice system. However, some individuals have been left with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Challenges Leading Veterans to Commit Crimes
According to a
, 1 in 4 active duty military members showed signs of a mental health condition. Veterans, especially those who have been in combat, return from duty with conditions such as PTSD, depression, and TBI. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to criminal behavior.
Many veterans who commit crimes sometimes have issues with substance abuse in addition to mental health issues. As noted by
Professor Julie Marie Baldwin
Representing People with Mental Disabilities
A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers
, edited by Elizabeth Kelley:
The correlation between higher rates of alcohol consumption and military service is supported by academic research and well known to the public and the military. Studies have discovered nearly half of veterans in some recent samples have participated in dangerous alcohol use and nearly half of some active duty personnel samples satisfy the classification criteria of binge drinker. Identified trends show military personnel experience steady and significant increases in heavy drinking. As previously noted, alcohol has been dubbed one of the "signature substances" of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) / Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) / Operation New Dawn (OND) (recent and current era) veterans. The prevalence and behavioral trends are also meaningful in terms of crime as the Army has noted that the "majority of crimes that Soldiers commit involve the use or abuse of alcohol." Left untreated combat-related mental illness and substance abuse can lead to veterans, and those with military experience, committing crimes.
Veterans Treatment Courts
Recognizing the special circumstances and issues that arise when a veteran becomes involved in the criminal justice system, most jurisdictions have veterans treatment court programs that divert veteran defendants away from the typical court system and into a program that can handle the special needs of these individuals. Veterans treatment courts are a hybrid of drug courts and mental health courts. Unlike other specialty courts, however, veterans treatment courts target individuals with military experience regardless of the types of crimes with which they have been charged, although the severity of offenses allowed depends on the particular jurisdiction.
Veterans treatment courts recognize that the traditional punitive form of justice does not address the underlying issues faced by veterans and focuses on a more rehabilitative approach. Most veterans treatment courts require regular court appearances, participation in treatment programs (such as mental health counseling and drug treatment), and frequent drug and alcohol testing. The hope is that by diverting veterans into these programs, the underlying causes of their criminal behavior can be properly addressed. Veterans treatment courts also help connect veterans with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs services and benefits.
Do Veterans Treatment Courts Work?
While there haven’t been many studies on the effectiveness of veterans treatment courts, a recent study did find that those who completed a veterans treatment program had lower rates of recidivism than the national average. Some small studies have also shown that individuals participating in veterans treatment court programs showed improvement in housing and employment situations. While the effectiveness of veterans treatment courts depends on the individual program, the results do look promising.
If you or a loved one has mental disabilities and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illness and intellectual/developmental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.