As they should, U.S. military veterans have a special place in the hearts of many Americans. Because we hold them up as special, it is important to understand that many veterans, including many in Minnesota, have special needs. When those needs are not addressed, vets will sometimes wind up in the legal system, often due to alcohol- or drug-related offenses, such as DWI.
A special court took effect about a year ago in Minnesota that is intended to address the unique needs of service members who have returned from duty in Afghanistan, Iraq or other areas. Vietnam vets also have access to Hennepin County’s Veterans Treatment Court. One Minnesota veteran reports that the system has helped him live a healthier and happier civilian life.
According to The Associated Press, this specific veteran has been charged with DWI three times. By the time the third incident came around, the special court was in action – and has reportedly set the repeat offender in the right direction. He credits the collaborative, treatment-based approach that the system utilizes for his life change.
Through the Veterans Treatment Court, the judge avoids sending veterans to jail for their criminal offenses. The cases are different because the defendants are dealing with different problems. It is commonly mental health issues and addiction that lead to the veterans’ criminal behavior, which is why the consequences the court hands out are tailored to those special needs.
As opposed to a standard DWI trial, for example, lawyers aren’t the only major players working in the best interest of their clients. Various specialists work together, including social workers, to come up with the best way to address veterans’ needs and, therefore, future behavior. The plans generally involve strict guidelines regarding drug and alcohol treatment, which is monitored regularly by officials.
The program will basically only work for the veterans if they work with the program. If they live by the rules decided on by the court and its specialists, they can avoid harsher sentencing that often involves incarceration. Participating properly in the special court also means that the veterans will be provided housing while they are getting their lives together.
This topic is a reminder that behind every drunk driving charge is a person with his or her own history and health issues. If this court proves effective in helping veterans, perhaps the wider system can learn something about how to best handle DWI cases for everyone. What do you think?
The Associated Press: “Special Minnesota court for troubled veterans marks 1-year anniversary,” Jul. 25, 2011