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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?

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up: A blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice, is anything but a corporate blog. Sobering Up is an opportunity for anyone interested or involved in the issues of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled crime, alcohol dependence and addiction, and the justice system to participate in the conversation.


  1. I am the coordinator of the Rochester Veterans Court in Rochester NY so have an obvious bias to this question. It is my view that equal justice means that no one gets punished for a crime more than the law allows. That does not mean everyone who commits a crime gets the same sentence. There are many mitagating circumstances that effect the disposition of a case. That is why there are victim statements and a chance for the Judge or jury to hear reasons for lieniency or full sentence under the law. Veterans are not above the law, but they have all at least made a conscious decision to serve our country at some point. We have asked them to participate in activity that is ihnerently dangerous and potentially life threatening. Many have a difficult time transitioning back to civilian life and struggle with PTSD and TBI as well as other psychological struggles. The Veterans Courts do not allow guilty people to go free, they allow services to be activated to assist someone to become better integrated into the general society with positive benefits for the Vet and our society. Vet court is not an easy out. The work that is required usually far exceeds the normal expectations of a sentence. It is not unusual for a Vet to discuss a transfer to our court but decide to remain in the orginal court because they just want to “do their time” and not have to do the work required.

    Veterans who have already sacrificed so much for our country deserve the opportunity to have a chance to be restored. George Washington said “The willingness with whichour young people are likely to serve in any war, not matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation”. Still is true. We need to provide our vets with every opportunity we can to show them our appreciation. This is one way we can do that.

  2. Well said, Dan. I couldn’t agree more. I’d add that these programs are connecting veterans with the benefits and services that they have already earned through their military service. In other words, it is not special treatment, its connecting them with what is owed to them. It is also important to note that clustering veterans on a single court docket allows the VA and mentors to be present at every court date. Spreading them out throughout a court calendar would make it impossible for each veteran to have the VA and a mentor in the room every time they appear before the judge.

  3. Also a veteran, I have mixed feelings about the program. My ex husband has 4 dui’s in less than 6 years and is trying to use veterans court as a way out. He served 4 years active and 2 years national guard 13 years ago. The only time he picked up any weapon was for qualification. Now, as a mother, I have to worry about his sobriety affecting the health and welfare of my children. As a veteran, I find this to be a total slap in my face and others on the road. I believe the program can work for those who need it, but does every veteran deserve it?

  4. Yes absolutely every veteran deserves a chance, and to be treated with respect. We risked everything. We sacrifice so much. I lost everything. I lost my hopes and dreams, then sacrificed even more, when losing my abusive ex wife, only to end up taking a guilty plea for an addict and criminal ex fiancée. And I know I’d have killed myself if Vets Court didn’t exist for me. Because there is no way an innocent man like me should even have to do all the requirements, year after year, in a program I feel is too hard, in fact, and some days I think staying in jail would have been easier, but then again, I had a death wish so, I’d have killed myself instead. I’m Alive today, because of vets court. I’m an intelligent AF Veteran, and I served honorably, and to be given a stigma over something my ex did, and me being the “white knight ” taking the blame, almost killed me. I had no idea how bad county was, or how bad it would feel to be around such perverts and psychos and addicts, and REAL criminals. Veterans should not have to suffer like those who are selfish and evil, as most Vets are not so selfish or evil. We all suffer from PTSD or TBI, and then Vets court connects us to resources that save our lives and restore our sanity. I almost did kill myself just before sentencing because I couldn’t bear it anymore, the “not knowing”…. and that not knowing, and being stigmatized, for something I didn’t even do, was the worst feeling in the world. Besides, I was going through a dirty divorce from an abusive ex who is trying to take me for house and home on top of all this. My will to live was diminished so greatly after feeling so betrayed by an unfair and broken court system, they simply arm twisted me into some “deal” while I was suffering from the abuse and isolation the guards forced me into for no reasons, and my hippocampus was so damaged from prison, *60 days* that I had to relearn how to write and how to speak all over again. I couldn’t even speak at my hearing, and I didn’t k ow how to, I couldn’t even think, and didn’t have access to phone calls or securing an attorney, and it probably wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. I hate being in Vets Court, to be honest, because I took all this on for someone else, who is still a criminal and an addict who betrayed me. But, here I’m given a chance to at least have my life back.

    It’s a complete disaster. But Veta Court saved me from suicide. Now I can live my only one life that I have. Sure, some people ho do stupid things like get DUIs, over and over. But people like me, don’t deserve to die because of some other idiots. Although I already was willing to lay my life down for others, I learned from all this that I won’t ever associate with such a wrong crowd again.

    I’m not a criminal, yet I have been branded as one Imagine how you would feel if you were me, and you served honorably and never did anything wrong in your entire righteous life? I feel like a martyr, sure, but that is the spirit of many Veterans who were willing to sacrifice things like comforts you all have, and things complicate when returning, so alchohol becomes a drug of choice for many. I just wish Vets Court would let me go already. After 2 years of good behavior and they still punish all of us for some other morons mistakes, like someone got caught drinking after graduation, so now ALL of us in the program have to continue doing UDSs post-graduation. It is nearly impossible to get work or a job when you have a criminal record, and then all the requirements of the court are so hard, it is almost impossible to live a normal life or to have a normal relationship. I still contemplate suicide, but I want to see it all the way through before I give up completely and become a statistic that slaps the Court in the face for a program thr actually was meant to be helpful. I don’t want them to think they are perfect though. The divorce is soul-crushing enough, and the escape from all the abuse, and not even being allowed to have a drink or take certain medications because they monitor all that, makes it almost feel like it’s not worth it. I feel like giving up most days. But the court program and the mentor part of it, are actually SAVING an innocent man. I just don’t know how much longer I can put up with the strict requirements, and they already had 2 suicides in the local vets court here in Erie, so, I figured if Inwas #3 blood on their hands, maybe then, they might FIX the broken things that are tempting me to also wish I was dead like those other Vets… I feel like they got off too easy and the rest of us are forced into hard labor and expensive fines, and they act like it is totally okay…

    Anyway, the only criticism that is valid is one that directs criticism for how strict the program is. And why it is so different from one City or State to another. It should be equal and fair, but it isn’t. I have never been more tempted to commit suicide before in my life. As for the truly guilty, I can see this program helps them. And as for me, I don’t know, I hate my life right now, and the constant threat of going back to jail, during a dirty divorce and being unable to travel, to focus, to do anything fun or interesting… it feels a lot like life just isn’t going to get better at for me. Vets Court is my only hope, and it might also end up being the death of me, and I don’t even care either way. Because I could critique it. But only for how hard it is.

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