Sunday, November 11, 2012

Support growing for jail diversion for traumatized veterans

An advisory group on veterans services convened by the Legislature recommended the criminal justice system be tweaked to accommodate veterans. Reported the Dallas News (behind paywall), "Veterans’ health and mental health needs should be a priority of the criminal justice system, the council’s report said. The Legislature should provide grant funding to local governments for expansion of the Jail Diversion and Trauma Recovery Program, according to the report." (See here for more background on the Jail Diversion and Trauma Recovery Program in San Antonio.)

Arguably, the goal of diverting traumatized or mentally ill veterans from the justice system has wide bipartisan support. Recently Denton County, a conservative bastion, opened its own veterans court, according to the Denton Record Chronicle ("Court program offers new path for veterans," Nov. 11):
For some combat veterans, trauma — mental or physical — is part of their service to our country. Such stress and turmoil can lead some to drinking or other abusive behaviors, and the accompanying run-ins with the law.

County officials see another solution.

The Denton County Veterans Treat­ment Court Program, approved by commissioners in 2009, is finally starting to become active, county officials said.

Denton County’s program is modeled after a successful program in Tarrant County led by Judge Brent Carr and is designed as a collaborative process between the court, defense counsel and prosecutors to treat combat-related mental illnesses that lead to the veteran’s criminal behavior.

“If the veteran successfully completes the program, his or her case will be dismissed by the district attorney’s office — essentially their record will be expunged,” First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck said.
Of the crimes committed by program participants, the majority will be drug- and alcohol-related, with some possible violence charges, she said.

“There will have to be consent by the victim for this to happen, and we only take a handful of cases — there is a very rigorous screening process they have to go through,” said County Criminal Court No. 3 Judge David Garcia, who will be hearing the cases.
Grits supports veterans courts but it's important to remember that, in the scheme of things, a "veterans court" is really just a specialized mental health court. So their success hinges on overcoming all the same barriers and shortages that impact non-veteran defendants suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.


Anonymous said...

Who are we kidding, Grits? Most of the traumatized veterans are becoming police officers...

Brad Walters said...

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand people committing crimes because they are mentally ill deserves to have alternative approaches explored. On the other hand veterans are not the only people who have been traumatized or have mental illnesses. Is it equal protection under the law or special protection under the law?

John C. Key MD said...

I don't support any favored groups and I don't see why vets should have a better shot at special treatment than than the 20-year-old product of a single parent home or learning disability...

Vets don't deserve any easier chance at diversion than any other group.

John C. Key MD said...

But diversion should be an opportunity for all offenders in appropriate crime categories.

Anonymous said...

Most veterans started their military careers as "normal" citizens with a great desire to serve their country. Our military men and women are then sent to countries where they will witness unspeakable atrocities against mankind. Our military in war zones live with alarms and warnings going off all around them. Some veterans are exposed to chemicals that can have a major effect on their physical and mental well being.

Then our military men and women return home and try to return to normal, but many can't shake what they have witnessed and endured. As a result, they are truly traumatized. Read about PTSD and the symptoms. Substance abuse, irritability and angry outbursts, feelings of mistrust and betrayal, always on "red alert".

Hell yes we, the people, should treat our veterans differently. They were willing to lay down their all for us. Our veterans deserve our respect, our understanding, and our compassion even in the justice system.

rodsmith said...

It's also not helping that the veterans we have now have seen more action than any soldier in WORLD WAR 2.

They are hit with multiple deployments into the sewer of the world...middle east and afghanistan.

North Texas Cop said...

To Anon @ 7:52: The same is true for many police officers.

Grits, will cops be eligible for this special program? If not, why not? Shouldn't they be?

Tern said...

Dear North Texas Cop: I appreciate your support for marijuana legalization, but you should post first, toke later. Because really, are you high? What in hell do cops face that is like watching your buddies get blown up by an IED? I dunno, maybe Denton has got a real Al-Qaeda problem. You should get the media on that.

Anyway, I'm sure you didn't want to post anything that would make anyone think that cops see themselves as an occupying military, such as comparing yourselves to an occupying military.

Get over yourself.

RSO wife said...

My, my. North Tx Cop - Maybe crossing guards should get special treatment too.

Of course, the military should get special treatment. Those young men and women have been through some of the worst experiences of their lives fighting a battle that our idiot politicians got us into. Those veterans deserve the best we can give them to help them adjust to civilian life. I won't say "normal" life because their lives will never ever be normal again.

They've seen things most of us will never be able to imagine. Our military gets the shaft all the time and we sit back here and whine when things don't go our way.

And to those who are still whining about veterans getting special treatment - please get down on your knees tonight and say a prayer for the military person who gave their freedom, both mentally and physically, so you can have yours.

I do this every night, because my husband and my son are both retired military. So unless you have a family member who served their country in any capacity, please shut up and let those of us who have been there, help those who need it most.

Anonymous said...

I have military "grandfathers" back to King Phillip's War. Texas Republic veteran's too. So I think they deserve special treatment. However, I also think our country is way too punitive. We have 5%of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population. Why do we immediately punish instead of helping people. "Lock 'em up" isn't the answer to everything. And we want to punish them for LIFE! Even after they've served their time, we want to put them on public lists. Forever...

g.h.g.mitte said...

Agree with both Anonymous in #1 and with you too Brad...Very supported and valid points. Larger issue is that our justice and legislative system is still way behind in catching up with latest research and science.. Plus, VA Justice Outreach specialists and their trauma counselors are on top of this in other states and nationally. Texas is way behind here.

Anonymous said...

As a retried member of the U.S. Army and I fought in several conflicts, my military experience comes to mind. I was told for over twenty years that everyone in the military gets treated the same. I know and saw this is not always true. Our Criminal Justice system is supposed to treat everyone the same also, but that never happens. There is justice for the poor and justice for the rich. There is an uneven Justice for women and justice for men. There is never the same amount of justice. Everyone should be treated equally in the Criminal Justice system. I also witness first hand that the members of the armed forces do not create the ridicules fiasco’s that our men and women end up fighting in. Sure, I think their personal situations should be taken into account and many do have issues too complicated for the average citizen to understand. Likewise many women who endure years of abuse are in the same situation but fill our prisons also. Some deserve punishment and some deserve some sort of rehabilitation. There is no rehabilitation in the Texas Department of Corrections. Believe it or not but Denton County is one of the few liberal counties in Texas, not as describe by some here. For this country to lock people up and throw away the key is disgraceful at best. This is what we say they do in third world countries, but I have been in some of these countries and this is not always true either. We are hypocrites in this country. We want everyone else locked up but not our love ones. I am glad to see the veteran’s courts but courts should take into account everyone’s situation that is standing before the bench and not pick and choose what is politically correct. I did not say anything about murderers and rapist or those who terrorize innocent people. For you conservations who live in Jerkwater USA. We have got to figure out a way to stop locking up everyone up for offenses where keeping them in the community and paying restitution would be in everyone’s best interest. A member of Congress who lost his bid to reelection, public records showed he did not pay child support. But not only did he remain free in society but he was able to run for reelection. I know for a fact, that I would have been sent to prison for that offense. Why when we convict athletics, politicians, law enforcement, and judges get to do prison in a safe secure part of the prison? I would be thrown to the wolves in General Population. They should be treated the same way and then maybe there would be a deterrent to keep them in line. Just like they keep us in line. It amazes me how they do not have to even obey the same laws they pass and enforce. Do not even get me started on the Parole Boards illegal activities. I do believe that the veteran’s courts and drug courts are a good start but everyone should be held to the same standards of the law. As far as a law enforcement officers who breaks the law? Well, personally they misused and betrayed the public trust and all of that authority they should not have to begin with. No sympathy from anyone should be given. That goes double for Judges and DA’s. They should be thrown in the same prisons, same conditions, as the people they lectured before sending them off to those same prisons. A little street justice would be sweet to say the least.

Anonymous said...

N. Tx Cop:

The comparison you're attempting to make is apples to oranges.

Besides, there is a diversion program for cops. Its called "administrative leave with pay"

Anonymous said...

Coming from a COP? I say that opinion is worth nothing. Texas probably saw it's last great Republican White Majority election this year. Maybe when all the old men are out of politics then there may be fair treatment and real reform. Not all this ole timey injustice.

North Texas Cop said...

Tern, RSO Wife, and Anon@10:22PM:

It might surprise you and others at just how prevalent PTSD is among cops and firefighters. Re: the “apples to oranges” and “get over yourself” comments and all they imply: It depends on what you’ve seen and what you’ve done in the line of duty. It’s certainly possible for a cop who spent 20 years handling multiple murders, traffic carnage, and child abuse cases to be more prone to PTSD than a guy who spent two years changing HMMWV transmissions in Baghdad. Though it’s neither fair nor appropriate to compare 2 years of service in OEF/OIF to 20 years in PD/FD/EMS, there is a significant amount of similarity between the mental health challenges among these services. See:

We can be honest about this without getting into a “my PTSD is worse than your PTSD” argument. Even Grits observed, “…their success hinges on overcoming all the same barriers and shortages that impact non-veteran defendants suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.” How can we legitimately support this special diversionary treatment for military veterans but not for police, firefighters, EMS, and other emergency first responders suffering legitimate PTSD? It’s a legitimate question that shouldn’t garner snarkiness or sneers; especially considering that you are effectively arguing in favor of a special, protected social class that should not be held fully responsible for their own actions because of their previous voluntary service. Maybe that’s a good thing and maybe it’s not.

Tern said...

North Texas Cop, I've met cops with PTSD. I've met plenty of people, non-cops and non-military with PTSD as well. I wouldn't be adverse to making it a special consideration for all, despite the fact that I - and most Americans - believe that the military deserves special consideration. But no, cops simply don't have the continuous exposure, as a profession, to traumatic events in the same way as our war veterans.

Nor do your "sacrifices" - such as they are - warrant the same deference we give the military.

The argument isn't "my PTSD is worse than your PTSD." PTSD is PTSD. But the argument is, as you said, should be veterans be a "special, protected social class that should not be held fully responsible for their own actions because of their previous voluntary service." Well, we've got a Veterans Administration that says that we treat vets differently, that we owe them something we don't owe you. And Veteran's Day, the VFW, VA loans, and GI Bill, etc.

And let's face it: There is no serious criminal problem with "police, firefighters, EMS, and other emergency first responders suffering legitimate PTSD." Or if there is, I'd like to hear about it. But veterans have a higher unemployment rate, a higher rate of mental problems, and thus a correspondingly higher rate of criminal behavior. This is made worse by our habit of treating the mentally ill by incarcerating them. Special courts, such as drug courts, arise in response to a severe and persistent need.

Now, if you can demonstrate such a need for cops, then it ought to be looked into. But you've interjected the alleged needs of cops into a post solely about veterans, on a blog that frequently exposes the poor behavior of police - both institutionally and as individuals - and it begs the question, why?

Again, it isn't always about you.