As a country we have spent more than a decade fighting two wars. During this time, nearly 2.5 million Americans have served in combat operations, according to the Department of Defense. Many of those soldiers have returned to American soil and many of those veterans now suffer from disabilities. Of the 1.6 million military members who are now veterans, about 670,000 have been deemed to have a disability that is connected to their military service.
Many of these veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. Those with PTSD often suffer from flashbacks, racing thoughts and sleepless nights. Those with a more serious form of the condition can exhibit severe outward manifestations, such as an inability to regulate and control their behavior.
Given the clear connection between combat and PTSD, no one should be surprised that many veterans find themselves faced with criminal charges.
In recent years, a select few counties in Wisconsin have tried to deal with these troubles by creating Veteran’s Courts. Often, a Veteran’s Court will work with veterans who have been convicted of crimes to ensure they are receiving services through the Department of Veterans Affairs, commonly known as the VA. These courts usually consist of a prosecutor, defense attorney, probation agent and liaison to the VA. This “team” is charged with monitoring veterans, makings periodic reports to the judge and intervening if the veteran relapses or becomes non-compliant.
Every county should establish such a court. As a society, it is shameful that we fail to understand the pervasive mental-health conditions that afflict those returning from combat. Virtually every veteran who finds himself in the criminal justice system is there either because of an untreated or undiagnosed mental-health condition. If there is underlying substance abuse, the addiction is almost always a way to mask the symptoms of PTSD or some other chronic, untreated condition.
Our veterans deserve better.
Intervention needs to occur before a veteran is even charged with a crime. Veteran’s Courts should offer a way to avoid criminal charges, rather than provide services after someone has been labeled a “criminal.”
The cost of fighting the global war on terror has been staggering. When our service members come home, and find themselves in legal trouble, we need to make sure that these men and women are treated and rehabilitated. We owe these veterans a debt of gratitude for their service; a debt that can be repaid by diverting those faced with criminal charges away from the justice system and instead ensuring they receive treatment for their mental disorders.