This commentary was originally featured in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on November 22, 2017.
Each year in November, the nation pauses to recognize those who have served in the military and sacrificed to protect this country. But truly thanking our veterans must consist of more than parades and ceremonies.
In addition to providing health care to our veterans, the country has an obligation to ensure that veterans gain access to treatment for unique issues they may suffer when making the difficult transition back to civilian life.
Countless veterans suffer from psychological trauma (PTSD) even if they’re physically unscathed by combat. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported that as many as 60 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD. A multitude of factors contributes to it. Beyond training for, engaging in and witnessing war, there’s also the side effects of anger and depression that come from losing friends — who feel more like brothers — restlessness caused by nightmares, and an inability to appropriately respond to stressful situations.
In turn, veterans commonly struggle with how to process or handle their trauma. According to Travis County’s Veterans Intervention Project survey, drinking and driving leads the way in veteran arrests, with 40 percent of charges falling on veterans under the age of 30. These problems persist when issues such as substance abuse go unaddressed, and neither the abuser nor the community is made better for it.
Thankfully, when these individuals get in trouble with the law, Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) are available to offer the treatment they need.
VTCs largely work to divert veterans who’ve committed low-level offenses away from incarceration and into rehabilitation. Unlike other problem-solving courts that strictly target substance abuse or mental health issues, VTCs provide a holistic approach — addressing the multitude of deep-seated issues that might bring a veteran to the point of committing a crime.
VTCs offer an environment unlike any other treatment court. Their community-based setup includes a combination of mentors — who are also veterans — and groups of VTC participants who can relate to each other’s issues and hold each other accountable for meeting treatment goals. After three years of operation, the Buffalo, N.Y., VTC — reportedly the birthplace of the concept — announced a remarkable zero recidivism rate among veteran graduates. Other national data has shown that 75 percent of defendants who finish the program were not rearrested within two years.
When the recidivism rate is zero, not only does that mean increased public safety, but it also means the long-term taxpayer burden of repeat arrests, incarceration or any other form of sentencing is spared. In fact, a University of Texas study revealed the state can save $15,000 annually per person by opting for VTCs over incarceration.
Given such positive results, more support from state lawmakers for VTCs is warranted — a mere 300 VTCs exist nationally, compared with over 3,000 drug treatment courts.
VTCs benefit all Americans, and state lawmakers around the country should look to mirror the successful results of other states. VTCs provide an opportunity to help veterans better manage issues that occurred while serving our country. By reducing recidivism, VTCs strengthen public safety – and at a much lower cost than incarceration. Not only is it logical for state lawmakers to support VTCs as evidence-based programs, it’s the right thing to do for our veterans.