Veterans have sacrificed not just their physical lives, but also their emotional and psychological well-being. The effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related trauma on their population have become common knowledge, but the repercussions of actions committed based on that trauma often go unnoticed. Veterans make up nearly 10 percent of America's population today. (1) Up to 20 percent of troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are reported to suffer from mental illnesses related to active duty, such as PTSD. (2) Furthermore, according to research done by the Pew Charitable Trusts, "[v]eterans with PTSD are more likely to be depressed, drink heavily or use drugs, and many have trouble working and maintaining relationships." (3) So, when these veterans affected by wartime trauma go out into the community, it comes as no surprise that they often end up in the criminal justice system. The sheer volume of veterans who make their way through the country's courts and correctional agencies should also come as no surprise, given the data.
Many times, before anyone dared to ask why veterans were left vulnerable in this way, they were sentenced without treatment and medical resources. They had no help to cope with their illness and restart their life post-duty with dignity. Today, the outlook for veterans is changing. There are programs that address the specific needs of veterans who wind up in the criminal justice system. Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) are one such program, and there are more than 220 of them today. The role of corrections is in "pre-entry," or addressing the risk factors of criminal behavior in veterans in such a manner that gets them the treatment or counseling they need to remain free from incarceration.
VTCs run much like the drug courts or mental health courts that have developed throughout the country. In much the same way that a judge might consider an individual's agreement to participate in counseling as a condition in drug court, so, too, might a judge consider military service in a VTC. Mentoring is another condition that is often part of VTC decisions. In fact, it's a crucial aspect of the courts' programming. Its strength lies in the military tenet to leave no soldier behind. Veterans honor upholds this tenet on the battlefield and brings that philosophy back home. It has served as a primary motivation for many veterans as they assist other veterans who were left behind by...