Most veterans return home strengthened by their military service. Veterans are more likely to volunteer their time, more likely to donate to charity, more likely to vote. They are leaders in our neighborhoods and communities.
Veterans are also less likely to be incarcerated than non-veterans. The number of veterans incarcerated in state and federal prison and local jail decreased between 2004 and 2012. Tragically, too many veterans are still coming into contact with the justice system due to treatable conditions.
A growing number of veterans suffer from substance use disorders, mental health conditions (such as PTSD), and trauma (such as traumatic brain injury). These issues can be exacerbated by the loss of structure and camaraderie found in the military, and research continues to link substance use disorders with service-related mental illness. Such conditions increase the likelihood of involvement with the justice system. In fact, 81% of justice-involved veterans had a substance use disorder prior to incarceration, and 25% were identified as mentally ill.
Veterans treatment courts offer a solution.
1 in 5
Veterans with symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment
1 in 6
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering with a substance use disorder
Percentage of veterans with PTSD that do not receive treatment
Veterans incarcerated in United States jails or prisons
What is a veterans treatment court?
Veterans treatment courts have gained national prominence as the most innovative solution for veterans caught up in the criminal justice system due to substance use and/or mental health disorders and trauma. Veterans treatment courts connect these men and women to the benefits and treatment they have earned; saving their lives, families, and futures, and saving tax dollars for the American public.
The first veterans treatment court was founded in 2008 in Buffalo, New York. Click below to read the inspiring story of how this court came to be. In just a few short years, the number of veterans treatment courts has grown significantly; there are now 334 of these courts in the United States.
"Leave No Veteran Behind"
Why a veterans-only program?
Business as usual in the judicial system means that veterans appear before random judges who may or may not understand their unique military service and any related problems. In the innovative veterans treatment court model, one judge handles the cases of numerous veterans and addresses them during the same court session, restoring some of the structure and camaraderie found in the military but often lost on the home front.
The judge is surrounded by an interdisciplinary team (prosecution, defense, treatment providers, law enforcement, Department of Veterans Affairs representatives, and a team of volunteer veteran mentors) all working toward the same goal: to help each veteran achieve recovery and get their lives back on track. This unique team is more familiar than most court professionals with the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, State Department of Veterans Affairs, and veterans service organizations. It allows a collaborative approach and “one-stop shopping” to ensure each veteran receives the personalized, wraparound services he or she has earned and needs to succeed.
Do Veterans Treatment courts work?
The first major study of these courts, published in the Community Mental Health Journal, concluded that veterans participating in veterans treatment courts experience significant improvement with depression, PTSD, and substance use, as well as with critical social issues such as housing, emotional health, relationships and social connection, and overall functioning and well-being.
"I can honestly say that the veterans treatment court kept me alive. It kept me going."
“My battle began when I came home. The veterans treatment court team saved my life.”
"Between counseling and support, being sober longer than I had ever been on my own, everything just clicked."
"Instead of throwing me in prison, veterans treatment court offered me the chance of a lifetime."
"The veterans treatment court team loved me and cared for me when I had burnt every bridge in my path."
The same study found that 89.5% of veterans with PTSD who participated in veterans treatment court remained arrest-free during their time in the program. It further concluded that mentoring from fellow veterans was particularly effective: veterans who received mentoring experienced better clinical outcomes and felt more socially connected.
More research on this relatively young court model is forthcoming, and early data are overwhelmingly positive.