A veteran who completed a combat tour in Vietnam spiraled into alcoholism after returning home. According to Newsday, the man committed several crimes and was able to attend veterans court, where he pled guilty to the nonviolent criminal charges. Instead of going to jail, the man will enroll in a court-monitored program that will include therapy, alcohol rehabilitation and possibly other interventions aimed at helping participants return to a fulfilling life as a civilian.
Minnesota currently has two such courts, offering veterans a solution for their problems instead of a punishment for them.
The need for veterans courts
Many military veterans return from their tours of duty with mental and physical health issues. Some people witness extreme violence, rape and crimes against children while serving overseas. Past and current military events put strain on veterans in the form of physical injuries, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, these people may turn to prescription drugs and illegal substances to alleviate mental or physical pain. In one study, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that more than one-quarter of Army soldiers who return home will develop an alcohol abuse problem, further increasing the risk for engaging in harmful activities such as drinking and driving or assault.
Instead of pushing veterans through the traditional criminal system, they are better served to go through veterans court and receive the proper treatment in order to lead successful lives. In 2013, Hennepin County reviewed its veterans court and found that of the 131 people accepted in the program, more than 80 percent committed fewer offenses in the six months following graduation when compared to the six months prior to enrolling.
Minnesota implemented its first military veteran court in 2010 in Hennepin County, and there is a veterans track in Ramsey County as well. To be eligible for participating in veterans court, a defendant must meet the following criteria:
- The veteran must have committed an eligible offense that includes a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor and even some felonies that do not carry mandatory prison commitments.
- The crime must have been committed in the county where the court is located.
- The veteran may not dispute the criminal charges.
- The veteran must complete either chemical dependency treatment or a domestic abuse program.
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals report that there are currently more than 150 veterans courts across the country and another 100 in the planning stages. Anyone with questions regarding their eligibility for veterans court should consult with an attorney.