Veterans Treatment Courts Prioritize Recovery Over Punishment

UT News (Mar 2016) | Elisa Borah

As a country, we honor our veterans in various ways. We stand when the national anthem is played, we take our hats off during the pledge of allegiance, and we recognize national holidays such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Although these displays are symbolic and meaningful, Texas needs to take more tangible steps to ensure veterans are honored one other way: with opportunity to achieve the best quality of life possible.

That means supporting and expanding Veterans Treatment Courts.

Of the 1.68 million veterans living in Texas, 11,000 are incarcerated. Because Texas has the largest criminal justice system and the second largest number of veterans, we are probably pushing above the 10 percent national rate of veteran incarceration.

Rather than being content to lock up our former service members, the Texas Legislature passed a bill in 2009 that authorized the creation of specialty courts for veterans charged with misdemeanor or nonviolent felony offenses.

These specialty courts, similar to Drug Courts and Mental Health Courts, are known as Veterans Treatment Courts, and they provide an alternative to incarceration through treatment, accountability and structure, lasting for up to two years.

The courts partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the State of Texas to provide mental health treatment and support, and they offer case management and service coordination to support access to employment, education, housing and benefits counseling.

This is exactly what we need more of in Texas, and the public, along with lawmakers, ought to take note.

Nationally, Veterans Treatment Courts have shown a 98 percent success rate, helping veterans truly return home while reducing the human cost of war. Rates of national veteran incarceration have also declined since 2004, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, with one of the reasons possibly being Veterans Treatment Courts.

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