Exploring Therapeutic and Militaristic Contexts in a Veteran Treatment Court

AuthorTyler J. Vaughan,Lisa Bell Holleran,Rachel Brooks
Published date01 February 2019
Date01 February 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2019, Vol. 30(1) 79 –101
© The Author(s) 2016
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403416640585
Exploring Therapeutic and
Militaristic Contexts in a
Veteran Treatment Court
Tyler J. Vaughan1, Lisa Bell Holleran1,
and Rachel Brooks1
Recently, the number of veteran treatment courts (VTCs) has greatly expanded. These
courts, based on drug treatment court processes, attempt to handle the underlying
causes of criminal conduct as well as the instant offense. There is, however, no research
that addresses how the military manifests in VTC. We suggest that participants import
military culture into VTC processes and that the military will have an influence on VTC
proceedings. The purpose of this study is to examine how military and specialty court
approaches appear in the VTC. Using results from field research in a VTC in Texas,
we find the military has profound influences in VTC proceedings. Military references
serve the purpose of structuring the court docket, helping develop rapport between
court staff and participants, as well as creating a familiar context for participants.
We highlight the value and potential problems of relying on military culture. Policy
implications and directions for future research are discussed.
veteran treatment court, military culture, qualitative research, fieldwork
More than two million members of the U.S. Armed Forces have served in Iraq
(Operation Iraqi Freedom) or Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) since 9/11
(Tan, 2009). Soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have an increased risk of post-
traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI); as many as 31% of
veterans have PTSD or TBI (Tanielian & Jaycox, 2008). Multiple deployments to
1Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Tyler J. Vaughan, Texas State University, 601 University Dr., Hines 112, San Marcos, TX 78666, USA.
Email: tjvaughan@txstate.edu
640585CJPXXX10.1177/0887403416640585Criminal Justice Policy ReviewVaughan et al.
80 Criminal Justice Policy Review 30(1)
combat zones and the high incidence of major injuries caused by improvised explosive
devices (IEDs) have led to higher rates of PTSD and TBI (W. B. Brown, 2008; Zoroya,
2013). The length and number of deployments to active combat zones, as well as diag-
noses of PTSD or TBI resulting from such service, have been linked to abuse of alco-
hol and drugs as coping mechanisms (Brown, 2011). These factors, and others, affect
the ability of veterans to follow society’s rules leading to an increased number of vet-
erans arrested for alcohol, drug, and other offenses (W.B. Brown, 2011; Smith & True,
2014). Thus, the veteran treatment court (VTC) was created to address social, psycho-
logical, and economic strains of veterans experiencing injury from combat, in addition
to problems of readjustment after deployment, as these factors are thought to contrib-
ute to veterans’ involvement in the criminal justice system (Russell, 2009).
Foremost, VTCs are specialty treatment courts emphasizing rehabilitation. Many
courts require veterans to be diagnosed with a treatable mental illness such as PTSD,
TBI, or substance abuse to participate in the program (Frederick, 2013). Jurisdictions
may limit VTC cases to non-violent, misdemeanor, or victimless crimes (Frederick,
2013). Since 2008, the number of VTCs has grown rapidly, yet these courts are a rela-
tively understudied phenomenon. In particular, little is known regarding the character-
istics of VTCs that differentiate it from drug or mental health treatment courts, other
than the composition of its clientele.
An underexplored difference between the VTC and other specialty courts is the
unique social context in which defendants find themselves while participating in the
treatment court process. Unlike defendants in other specialty courts, defendants in
the VTC share a common social link with one another from the beginning. Veteran
defendants in treatment court will sit alongside other veterans in the courtroom—
they may further be supervised by veteran probation officers, and may be held
accountable to veteran judges. Although the VTC is a unique context for a specialty
court, no known studies exist that explore how aspects of the military manifest in
VTCs. We believe the time is right to explore the nature of this type of court, and in
particular to describe how military culture appears in the VTC.
To that end, we review the existing literature on the experience of specialty courts
and the military to provide a context for evaluating the VTC. We then present the find-
ings from field research conducted in a VTC in Texas. We had the unique opportunity
to observe the interactions of veteran probationers, probation officers, treatment per-
sonnel, court staff, and the VTC judge over a period of 6 months. In analyzing detailed
field notes on the setting, the discourse, and interactions, we describe characteristics
of the VTC that presumably differentiate it from other specialty courts, and identify
strengths and potential problems associated with such a court. This article specifically
examines the coexistence of therapeutic and militaristic characteristics of the VTC.
Literature Review
With the goal of investigating the militaristic aspects of the VTC, we review research
documenting the culture of the military. However, to place our study in an appropriate
context, we acknowledge that the VTC is a non-traditional court and review stated

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