In 2008, Judge Robert Russell created the first Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) in Buffalo, New York. The court addressed the growing number of veterans that were ending up in the judicial system for smaller crimes, and focused on treatment over incarceration. Often the crimes that these vets were committing were related to alcohol or drug problems—a huge and growing trend in the veteran community that continues today. The program worked, and there are now over a hundred of these courts around the country.
And this past December (2015), the first VTC was established on a military post.
Keeping Veterans out of Prison
Instead of jail, VTCs put veterans into a recovery program—part rehab and part addiction therapy. Participants are required to make regular appearances in court (usually every other week) to check in on progress, and given mandatory group and class appearances.
The program is successful because it recognizes that veterans often have specific needs and problems that arise from their service. It also puts participants in a structure they can relate to. Life in the military is based around routine and order—both qualities that the VTC program takes advantage of.
Military Mentors Help
The other major contributor to its success is its use of mentorship. VTC participants, all of whom have voluntarily joined the programs, are connected with resources in their community including veteran volunteers. Connecting with others that have the shared military background and value system is a great way to combat addiction, which often starts with isolation, and many times grows out of underlying problems connected to their time in the military. These mentors give advice, provide support throughout the recovery process, and help connect the participants with resources that they might not know exist.
Fort Hood’s On-Post Veteran Treatment Court is a First
The VTC that was started on post at Fort Hood is a unique program, says Richard Durbin, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas in this article posted on the Army’s website, which also says that Hood was chosen for its size and because it has lots of veterans that come on-post for a wide variety of reasons. This system will be able to step in when those vets get in trouble.
The VTCs on Hood and around the country are a great step towards helping veterans in trouble. None of us who served (and continue to serve) deserve special treatment from the law. But many, especially those who have seen multiple combat tours, carry with them wounds from their service. Programs like these are a great way to address those issues, which don’t excuse bad choices, but do present opportunities to address problems in different ways.
Justice for Vets is a national level organization with lots more information on VTCs, along with an interactive map showing all VTC locations around the country. They’re also a great resource for more information about these kinds of courts, how they work, and who they help.
Or click here for more information on volunteering to be a part of their “Mentor Corps.”