Treatment Courts Can Help Veterans Deal with Trauma

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Treatment Courts Can Help Veterans Deal with Trauma

Reena Zuckerman, NECIR Summer Journalism Student, Student at Gann Academy and Writer at Gann's Shevoun Hatichon Paper, Waltham MA

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Veterans often return home from wars, suffering from trauma they endured on the battlefield. Nearly a half million veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars came home with post traumatic stress syndrome or depression and more than 300,000 suffer from substance abuse, according to the nonprofit group Justice for Vets.

The group launched a new way to help veterans: Veteran Treatment Courts, which help vets get access to treatment rather than spend time in jail. More than 15,000 vets have worked with these centers so far, getting access to such services as housing benefits and  employment support, and other services that veterans do not usually connect with, said Chris Deutsch, a spokesman for Justice for Vets.

Just as in a normal court proceeding, the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge, work with the defendant. However, in Veteran Treatment Courts, “everyone is on the same team [and] the goal is rehabilitation of the individual,” Deutsch explains.

Before court begins, the team meets to discuss each case. This pre-trial meeting is a time for the judge to learn how the veteran is doing, and based on the report, react and ask questions of the vet during their hearing.

These courts try to have as much veteran to veteran interaction, as they can understand each other’s situation. By having a veteran-only docket, “they will be surrounded by other veterans who are in a similar situation that they are which makes it a lot easier for them to accept the help that is being offered,” Deutsch said. Veteran Treatment Courts also bring in volunteer veterans from the community to serve as mentors for the current vets.

The group also helped create the Veterans Justice Outreach Program, which  tries to keep vets from getting incarcerated at all. The program also helps vets if they get in trouble with the law.

The first Veteran Treatment Court was established in Buffalo, NY, by Judge Robert Russell in 2008. Now, during the 10th anniversary of the first treatment court, there are 334 courts all across the country, including five in Massachusetts: Municipal Court; Essex County Veterans Treatment Court, in Lawrence District Court; Middlesex County Veterans Treatment Court, housed in Framingham District Court; Norfolk County Veterans Treatment Court, housed in Dedham District Court; and lastly, Western Massachusetts Veterans Treatment Court, housed in Holyoke District Court.

“We need a Veteran Treatment Court in every county in the country,” Deutsch says, “there is a long way to go.” Justice For Vets will continue to lobby in congress, work with the VA, and help other jurisdictions to open up more VTCs, to improve the lives of people who deserve a second chance, due to trauma imposed on them while protecting our country.