More than 1.6 million veterans call our great state of Texas home. We are grateful for and honor each and every one of our men and women in uniform for the sacrifices they have made and continue to make for our safety and freedom. All Texans share in the important responsibility of assisting our veterans in transitioning from military to everyday life. It’s a community-wide effort, and we need to be doing more. Our veterans deserve more.
Many veterans come home empowered by their time in the military, able to adjust with little to no assistance. For others, overcoming demons arising from their experiences in combat takes time and support.
Justice for Vets, a national organization committed to the expansion of veterans treatment programs, reports that, out of the more than 2.4 million men and women who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 460,000 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and 345,000 suffer from an alcohol or drug addiction. If treatment isn’t received, the consequences can be dire: unemployment, homelessness, criminal convictions and even suicide.
A downward spiral from war to jail should not be our veterans’ narrative. Texas’ judicial branch is stepping up its efforts to ensure that our veterans’ futures are on a positive path. The state’s first veterans court started in Harris County in 2009. Since then, 11 additional courts have opened their doors, with three more scheduled to come online next year in Williamson, Webb and Cameron counties. These courts’ specialized dockets are solely dedicated to veterans in an effort to keep them out of our criminal justice system.
They operate first by identifying qualifying veterans following an arrest. The most common offenses are DWI, assault, theft and domestic violence. The courts, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a team of prosecutors, defense attorneys and others then work together to create an intense treatment program that provides structure, support and accountability. Veterans are often required to come to court before their judge every one or two weeks for a progress report in addition to their inpatient and outpatient treatment regimen. If a veteran successfully completes the nine-month- to two-year-program, the charge is cleared from their record.
Veterans report that the programs restore their dignity, build their self-confidence and give them hope. The recidivism rate is evidence that veterans courts need to continue and expand. Travis County has graduated 40 veterans from its program since it began in November 2010. As of today, only one graduate has been re-arrested.
Texas needs to continue to provide support and funding for these programs. Our communities would be well served by having more veterans courts. The programs play a vital role, and I am proud the Texas judiciary is playing a crucial role in bringing our men and women in uniform all the way home.
Hecht is chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and a U.S. Navy veteran. Follow him on Twitter @NathanLHecht or contact him at Nathan.Hecht@txcourts.gov.
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