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Sunday, May 27, 2012
Veterans' Courts: What are they and will they help?
From The Huffington Post:
When Larry, my uncle through marriage, came back to New York City from Vietnam, everyone knew he wasn't quite right but was unprepared to help him.
His life post war took a downward turn that he never recovered from. Loitering, bouncing between relatives' houses and church shelter programs, he would often get arrested for public drunkenness. He would ride the subways. And that's where he killed himself.
Across the country this story has been repeated over and over again. It was a time where in pop culture people were a lot less aware of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury).
Today the issue is even more urgent.
"Studies have shown that about 35 percent of homeless vets are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and about one-quarter had these issues before they committed crimes," says Peter Gravett, Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet).
"California being the most populous state has over two million veterans -- the vast majority located in L.A. and San Diego -- L.A. because it's our most populous city and San Diego because of its great weather," Gravett explains.
For these reasons, a new judicial processing system, veterans' courts, has been set up across the nation to help wayward soldiers find a path they can take to get their lives back on track.
"I was in the military, and I was in law enforcement several years ago. We had veterans returning from Vietnam and we didn't recognize [their symptoms] -- they did not get the help and assistance needed," Gravett said.
Veterans' courts, according to Gravett, are a hybrid of government and mental health drug court models that address the unique issues presented by those who served in the military and may be suffering from serious mental health problems or other recurring illnesses.
Started in Buffalo, NY, in 2008, veterans' courts have been established in several states around the country, including California, which has nine such courts statewide, most located in Southern California.
There are approximately 23.4 million veterans, 1.7 million of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan. As much as one-third of the nation's homeless population has served in the armed forces, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly half of all homeless vets suffer from some sort of mental illness, and 75 percent struggle with substance abuse.
Unable to cope with life after the military, Gravett explains veterans often wind up homeless or on the street, or pulled over by police for committing misdemeanors like jaywalking. These courts are there for those offenses.
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