A recent Bloomberg news article took an in-depth look at the different experiences two combat veterans had with the criminal justice system after running afoul of the law. Mike Jones, a former Army Ranger, was arrested in Orange County, California, for threatening to kill a friend. James Sosh, a former Indiana National Guardsman, was arrested in Huntington County, Indiana, for selling prescription drugs to an undercover detective. Jones was sentenced to counseling. Sosh is still in prison. Both charges were felonies.
The difference in their sentencing? Whether or not a Veteran’s Treatment Court was available to them.
The first Veterans Treatment Court was established in 2008 in Buffalo, New York, and the growth of these specialty courts since then has been rapid. Veterans who are accepted into the treatment court programs have been diagnosed with substance abuse and/or a mental health disorder related to their service.
Veterans courts vary on accepting veterans charged with violent crimes or not, but once they are in the program, veterans receive coordinated care and treatment that helps them address the substance abuse or mental health issues that led them to their criminal behavior. Most had no trouble with law enforcement prior to their service.
According to Justice for Vets, a non-profit organization working to ensure access to treatment courts for veterans in the criminal justice system, 1 out of 5 veterans suffer from some form of mental health disorders, and 1 out of 6 veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from substance abuse issues.
The Bloomberg article raised questions about troubled veterans becoming a burden to society, and if they should receive the “preferential care” that Veteran’s Treatment Courts provide. Critics cite the “Equal Justice Under the Law” principle because veterans in the system do not all have equal access to programs such as these courts. In addition, offenders in these courts are generally required to plead guilty to their crimes, a practice that the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says is a “forced waiver of rights,” an argument that they apply to any specialty court program with the same model.
Do you think Veterans Treatment Courts are giving combat veterans “preferential” treatment? If so, is that something you think they’ve earned because of their service? Where do you think society’s responsibility to help veterans ends?
Veterans Courts are proliferating for a reason: They work at the local/community level, where the crime happens and the community must manage the outcomes. What do you think?