Large numbers of combat veterans are often led into behaviors which heighten their likelihood of arrest and incarceration. The Veterans Treatment Courts provide an effective mechanism for intercession, diverting combat veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) or other service-related conditions from jail to treatment.  There are now over 200 Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) in the United States and the veterans in justice movement continues to grow. Justice for Vets coordinates efforts, providing training and technical advice to courts and criminal justice stake-holders.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America cites three categories of symptoms which occur a month or more later following exposure to a traumatic event;

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
  • Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.

Combat veterans often seek to self-medicate in an attempt to control their symptoms–such attempts involve the use of drugs and alcohol.  Anger management issues, anxiety and startle response reactions, flashbacks and chronic insomnia increase the justice profiles of many, leading all-too-often to arrest and incarceration.

Veterans Treatment Courts, the Movement

The Veterans Treatment Courts began in 2008 in Buffalo, New York when Judge Robert Russell, a District Court Judge who ran both Mental Health and Drug specialty courts, noticed an increase in veterans passing through the docket and decided to create a specialty court that would specifically target combat veterans for diversion to an array of treatment options.  Judge Russell’s vision and efforts have proven seminal and highly effective.

Alternatives in Justice for Veterans, Resources

CueOps’ Guy Gambill was involved in national efforts at the highest level in working on alternatives in justice for veterans, including with the Justice Policy Institute, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), Justice for Vets, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Veterans Administration (VA).

Fielding alternatives to arrest and incarceration for veterans is a social justice cause worthy of investment and consideration.

Additional References & Resources:

National Center for State Courts Veterans Court Guide

Justice for Vets Resources for Court Professionals

National Institute for Corrections, Veterans Treatment Court Resources