Everyone knows by now that many U.S. soldiers are coming back with big problems from the sandy hellholes of Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost 20 percent of veterans whove served in those wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is an extraordinarily hard condition to deal with, and too many veterans with the disorder find temporary relief in too much drink and too many drugs. The suicide rate is high among combat vets, and, as a New York Times op-ed today puts it, too many ... find themselves on the wrong side of the law, for reasons related more to their experiences in service to their country than to criminal intent.
The NYT op-ed in question was written by former Marine lieutenant Ronald D. Castille, who also happens to be the chief justice of Pennsylvanias Supreme Court. Castille tells about the birth of a growing national trend: veterans courts. The initial veterans court began in Erie County, N.Y., and has had remarkable success in dealing with veterans who wind up in jail. So successful, in fact, that there are now around 40 veterans courts nationwide. Mecklenburg County has plans to launch a veterans court, too, but no one seems to know when its supposed to begin.
Veterans court is designed to give troubled vets a path to recovery without having to go through the regular penal system. Most defendants in veterans courts are screened and assessed, then placed in a treatment program rather than in jail, and their progress and compliance are tracked. In Erie County, 90 percent of the vets in the program complete it, and of those, recidivism is nearly non-existent. Heres hoping the Mecklenburg version of veterans court gets off the ground soon. Its the least we can do to repay the soldiers who bear the brunt of decisions made in D.C.