In an article in the New York Times titled ‘In Military Courts, Considering Alternative Punishment for Trouble Service Members‘, Mr. James Dao discusses the implementation of Veterans Court’s into the military judicial process. He discusses the various benefits as well as potential hurdles that would need to be addressed before something of this magnitude could be implemented across the entire military judicial structure.
Veterans court is a ‘special court’ that hears cases of veterans charged with minor offenses, particularly those diagnosed with service related injuries and illnesses such as PTSD or TBI. These courts have the ability to offer a suspended sentence in lieu of completing a rigorous treatment program to address the issues that led to the veterans presence in the court, rather than simple incarceration. Since its implementation in Buffalo, NY in 2008 there are now more than 80 such courts nationwide.
Mr. Dao argues that if the military were to take a similar approach, offering treatment in lieu of confinement and a less than Honorable Discharge the military could potentially prevent these future veterans from ending up in the civilian legal system. Veterans who leave the service with a Less than Honorable or Dishonorable Discharge are denied the very services that could help them the most by the VA such as mental health care. By treating the underlying cause of the offense, and offering the ability to receive an Honorable Discharge at the end of their treatment program, the military can take an active roll in reducing the burden of the civilian court in the long run.He did point out, however, that there are some hurdles that will need to be addressed before any such implementation can take effect on a large-scale level.
Some military bases lack the essential services needed to ensure the service member receives the very care he needs as a part of the program. Not all bases have Mental Health clinics capable of offering the type of in-depth care necessary for PTSD and/or TBI. Some of this could be outsourced to the local civilian population, however there are bases in locations where the resources simply are not available. Even so, there is the potential for these issues to be worked out. This is hardly an insurmountable task.
Implementing this system, in the long run, will only benefit the military and the future veterans who encounter this program. It will also go far in removing the stigma held by many civilians in regards to veterans with PTSD. Additionally, the veteran will also feel less hesitant to seek treatment from the VA because the denial of a problem will already have been surmounted as well as any potential fear of treatment.
These programs aren’t a joke. Its not a ‘get out of jail free’ card. It takes a lot of hard work to complete the rigorous requirements. Participants are generally required to continue working, meet their financial obligations, be compliant with taking their medications, therapy, and drug or alcohol rehabilitation. You can’t fake your way through these programs, the consequence of attempting to do so is the original sentence is levied. That, in and of itself, can be a very motivating factor in seeing the plan through to completion. In completing the program, the service member could either be returned to duty or separated with an Honorable Discharge. Its a win-win for both the military as well as the service member.
While a diagnosis of PTSD or TBI is not synonymous with predicting indications of committing a crime, it is a sad fact that most service members who are separated under less than honorable conditions will have trouble finding gainful employment. Couple this with the debilitating effects of untreated PTSD and you are more likely to see problems that can escalate to criminal charges. When you consider that approximately 20% of our service members have or will develop PTSD, that is a potentially staggering increase in the number of veterans who may one day find themselves in court. Heading this off while they are still within the service is paramount to their success in the future.
This isn’t a new concept. The article discusses the history of such actions dating back to President Andrew Jackson. If its been done before, there is little reason it could not be done today. Our veterans need this desperately. Today service members make up 1% of the total population but account for more than 20% of all suicides. I wonder how many of those veterans decided to end their lives rather than face pending criminal charges. We may never know the answer to that question. However this program has the potential to effect service members lives for the better. Doesn’t it seem like common sense to implement it on as large as a scale as possible?