Veterans-only court is in works to provide treatment

Project aims to pinpoint causes of crime, provide treatment

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In the past four years, about 1,300 veterans have been booked into the Columbia County jail.



Charges range from drunken driving to assault, as men and women who fought for their country overseas struggle to stay peaceful back home.

There are physical and mental issues to consider -- such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse -- in addition to the bigger question of whether the community and nation are fulfilling their promises to veterans when so many end up in jail.

The Augusta Judicial Circuit, under the direction of Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, is working to tackle the problem by establishing one of the state's first courts tailored specifically to help veterans. The so-called veterans court will join one under way in Butts County, Ga.

"It's sort of like another shot at recovery," said Laurie Ott, of the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project. "Another shot at healing from whatever it is that brought them to this point where they've had this law enforcement encounter."

In 2009, Ott's organization brought local law enforcement and judges together for a roundtable discussion at the VA Hospital with Judge Robert Russell of Buffalo, N.Y. Russell was the first in the nation to establish a court specifically designed to give veterans help rather than jail time.

Ott said that laid the foundation for the work done in Augusta.

When it's completed, the veterans court will work in much the same way as the circuit's drug court. Blanchard said the plan is to have everyone who is booked into local jails fill out paperwork that inquires about military service. Afterward, the district attorney's office will follow with a full screening and background check of the inmate.

"The DA is gatekeeper," Blanchard said.

Anyone with violent offenses that demand mandatory incarceration will be excluded, said District Attorney Ashley Wright. Drug charges, thefts and other nonviolent offenses are likely to make up a large part of the applications.

"The person needs to be in need of treatment and not just to have committed a crime," Wright said.

Instead of staying in jail, eligible veterans can volunteer for court-administered treatment programs whose goal is to address the underlying causes of their arrests. Essentially, they will be reconnected to VA services and benefits. Although the Richmond County Sheriff's Office doesn't keep track of the number of veterans arrested, Blanchard estimates that it would likely be double the number in Columbia County because of the larger population and military presence.

Blanchard said he envisions the participants meeting at the VA hospital in a group setting. Treatment for substance abuse, PTSD and mentorship will be priorities for the program.

"What you will have are people who have been in that situation but pulled themselves out of it," Blanchard said.

Specialized veterans courts are popping up across the nation. Just this week, authorities in Charleston, S.C., announced the creation of their own, which was spearheaded by a 32-year-old Charleston School of Law student from Augusta.

In a phone interview, Justice L. Perkins said the court is good not only for the veterans but also for the community. Taxpayers benefit because, instead of the local municipality paying money to jail and treat the offender, the federal government bears the cost through the VA programs.

The community as a whole is better off, he said, because the offender is made a productive member of society.

"The idea here is that it balances the need between treating the veteran ... with the need to protect the community," he said.

Blanchard said a letter outlining the basic format of the court has been sent to the VA for approval. He hopes to have the court up and running within the next one to two months.

"We have met once a month with a wonderful team from the VA hospital," Blanchard said. "We've had social workers; we've had doctors meet with us; and we've had other individuals there. We meet on a monthly basis to discuss where we are and what we need to do."

View statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics on incarcerated veterans at:

http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=431

Listen to a National Public Radio interview with the founder of veterans courts, Judge Robert Russell at:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91633166

HEAR: Listen to a National Public Radio interview with Judge Robert Russell, the founder of veterans courts, at npr.org">style="bold">npr.org .

Comments (13) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/07/11 - 06:20 am
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Great program as is the drug

Great program as is the drug court.

Dixieman
12468
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Dixieman 03/07/11 - 10:59 am
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Didn't anyone bother to read

Didn't anyone bother to read the link to the Justice Department website listed at the end of the article? "Male veterans less than half as likely as male non-veterans to be in prison in 2004. Veterans older, better educated than other State and Federal prisoners" is how it begins, and this has been true for decades! Veteran = Loser is an old, discredited libel. If anyone needs a special court, it is nonveterans!!

dougk
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dougk 03/07/11 - 12:18 pm
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Agreed, Dixieman. It will
Unpublished

Agreed, Dixieman. It will further marginalize those who are most socially marginalized to begin with. If the program is good for veterans, why isn't it a good program for other people? Or is a good program because the feds. are picking up the tab?

Dixieman
12468
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Dixieman 03/07/11 - 01:10 pm
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The Feds are picking up the

The Feds are picking up the tab with OUR money!

corgimom
26188
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corgimom 03/07/11 - 02:51 pm
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"Taxpayers benefit because,

"Taxpayers benefit because, instead of the local municipality paying money to jail and treat the offender, the federal government bears the cost through the VA programs."

Excuse me, where do you think VA money comes from?

If someone is a drunk or an addict, they will ALWAYS find reasons to use.

This is insulting to the MILLIONS of people that served in the Armed Forces and who isn't a drunk, druggie, or violent.

Frank I
1158
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Frank I 03/07/11 - 07:16 pm
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As a Veteran AND a former

As a Veteran AND a former addict (not druggie), I think this is a great idea. You rant about the cost to taxpayers, but if this program were not put in place, there would still be taxpayer cost. In fact, it would likely be higher as it would involve incarceration, whereas this idea looks to try to rehabilitate (likely on an outpatient basis).

dougk
3
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dougk 03/07/11 - 07:35 pm
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You're right, Frank I. My
Unpublished

You're right, Frank I. My original point was if it's better for the veterans, why isn't it better for everyone? And, please educate me as to the difference between "addict" and "druggie."

tombee
35
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tombee 03/07/11 - 08:45 pm
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dougk is right. These

dougk is right. These specialty courts are getting out of hand. One for druggies, one for the deranged, another for the veterans, etc. Soon I guess we will have one for people who vote, people who don't, people who are single parents, another for professionals, another for those on welfare. Look -- people commit crimes, people should be punished. The purpose of the justice system is not social work. It is punishment. If AFTER the punishment has been served and they want to get brownie points for these types of programs, fine. But don't forget the purpose of the criminal justice system.

dougk
3
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dougk 03/07/11 - 09:59 pm
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The purpose of criminal
Unpublished

The purpose of criminal sanctioning may be punishment or it may be rehabilitation/reintegration. That should be derived from what works and what doesn't and those sanctions need to be meted out equitably.

bclicious
602
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bclicious 03/08/11 - 12:46 am
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This is basically a form of a

This is basically a form of a pre-trial intervention/diversion program. A pretrial diverson program is one in which the courts seek to rehabilitate and punish the offender and restore the victim without convicting the offender of his/her crime. This is usually done at a special court hearing in which the specifics of a custom tailored program are outlined for the offender. This is good because it attempts to fix the problem that caused the offender to commit a crime in the first place. In these types of programs, the victims usually have a lot of say about what shouldbe involved in the program.

An example would be: A person breaks the window of a car in an effort to steal a TOM-TOM gps device. The person is immediately caught by police, and is found to have a misdemeanor amount of addictive drugs on him. In general, the criminal is found to have only committed a few petty crimes in order to support his habit. After a brief interview by the public defender's office and a representative of the DA's office, it is determined that this individual would be a good candidate for the pretrial intervention program.

The person is offered the promise of rehabilitation and the ability to avoid jail time if they agree to the program. A typical program for this kind of person would be for the court to appoint a mentor or person to watch over and be responsible for the offender. The offender would be mandated to attend some kind of drug rehabilitation program, 300 hours of community service, pay restitution to the victim, apologize to the victim, and take frequent drug tests. The program would usually last for 6-8 months.

If the offender does not agree to any part of the program, then prosecution resumes. If the offender fails to complete any part of the program, prosecution resumes. Also, if the offender fails to complete the program, then anything he did during the program has no bearing on the outcome of his original trial proceedings. This means, he cannot get credit for time served, or for the community service hours he completed.

Overall, I do support these types of programs, and I think that they would be great for everyone. I think that the reason why the Veterans Court was started is because society owes them a debt that can NEVER EVER be repaid!

Frank I
1158
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Frank I 03/08/11 - 12:56 pm
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I can't speak to all, but in

I can't speak to all, but in my case the difference between being an addict and a druggie was the ability to admit a problem and take the steps to come clean.

IsAmericaFree
47
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IsAmericaFree 03/08/11 - 05:06 pm
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Not all addicts are druggies.

Not all addicts are druggies. Look at gamblers: what drug does that involve?

What happens to Veterans that have been previously told they do not qualify for VA services? Will they now be covered if they commit a crime? My husband is a disabled veteran, but because his disability amounts to less than 20%, he was told he can only receive services directly linked to his service-related disability.

corgimom
26188
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corgimom 03/09/11 - 11:10 pm
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For a whole lot of those

For a whole lot of those alcoholics and drug addicts, they already had many years of substance abuse before they went into the service.

corgimom
26188
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corgimom 03/09/11 - 11:12 pm
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"I think that the reason why

"I think that the reason why the Veterans Court was started is because society owes them a debt that can NEVER EVER be repaid!"

And a whole lot of them spent their time stateside typing reports or peeling potatoes and never saw one minute of combat. There is a huge difference between a veteran and a combat veteran.

free1992
11
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free1992 03/10/11 - 02:33 am
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It amazes me those that have

It amazes me those that have never served in the military seem to think they understand, if you have not served then you do not know. I thought I understood as a military dependent, it was not until I raised my right arm that the full weight of that decision landed. First I gave up my rights under the constitution and was placed under the rules of the UCMJ. Give that a read one time it would make you laugh as to the rights we gave up to serve. You go to bed every night knowing your next morning is geting ready for work. We go to bed hoping to wake up with a day of peace in the world. It still makes me choke up everytime I hear a young man or woman tell me they are going to serve. If you really want to get an idea what it is like to serve than by all means man/woman up and raise your right hand and promise to defend this nation with your life. Yes, I think we deserve a little special treatment at times, a small token for standing on the wall.

bclicious
602
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bclicious 03/10/11 - 09:51 am
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Corgiman, As a proud 3 time

Corgiman,

As a proud 3 time combat veteran of OIF, I cannot agree with you more that there is a big difference between a combat veteran and a regular veteran; however, how many combat veterans have actually been in real combat?

The old saying in the Army was that it takes something like 5 soldiers to support every 1 combat soldier. With that idea in mind, do commo, supply, admin, medical, mechanical, and food service personnel who serve in combat deserve any more or any less preference then their yet never-deployed counterparts? I would say yes, but that would be unrealistic.

In my 3 tours in combat, all 3 of my tours involved running missions outside the wire. In my first tour, things were out of control and I thought I was gonna die in Iraq. In my second tour things were much better, but were still engaged some. In my third tour, I never fired my weapon one time, nor did my gunner. Things had settled down quite a bit and Iraq was balancing out.

My point is that, plenty of people serve in the military without ever deploying or seeing actual combat. I think that it is no more the soldier's fault who deploys and never see's combat then it is the fault of a soldier who never deploys to an actual combat zone.

Just the opinon of a not young, but not quite old, and beat up combat veteran.

Thank you for your service Corgimom!

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