Veterans are no more likely than the average person to commit a crime. But, they do have a unique set of needs. Many vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, as well as other criminal behaviors. Many vets don’t want to ask for help and are only offered assistance when they finally run afoul of the law. That’s where the Florida Veteran’s Courts come in.
South Florida will have three such courts when one in Broward opens later this year. But, they are expected to grow even more as the demand for veteran’s services increases with those coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. South Florida is already home to about 287,000 veterans, according to the Miami Herald.
Currently, legislation is pending that would increase the number of such specialty courts handily. Having passed the House Appropriations Committee unanimously and with two similar bills in the Senate, each judicial circuit would be allowed to create such a vet court.
These courts, like drug courts, are designed to get people help and to address the cause of their criminal behavior. With veterans, this cause is often PTSD or the drug and alcohol problems that arise when one returns home from overseas.
By addressing the causes of the criminal behavior, the hope is that these vets won’t return to the system again and will receive help in living a well-adjusted life.
The Veteran’s Administration (VA) plays a big role in the Vet Courts as they are able to provide therapy and treatment for free to the veterans through federal money. While vets often have contact with the VA when they first leave the military, this relationship often dwindles. The vet court reconnects the veterans with the services provided by the VA.
The courts aren’t designed to not hold people accountable for their actions. On the contrary, the program can be quite difficult. With frequent court check-ins and mandatory treatment, some vets can’t stick with it. According to the Miami Herald, in the span of a year, the Palm Beach County Vet Court hears 281 cases, of which 43 were referred back to the criminal court (what happens when a defendant doesn’t succeed in the specialty court).
As a veteran, your needs are unique. While vet courts aren’t present in every jurisdiction, the numbers are growing. If you are accused of a criminal offense, it could provide you with the opportunity to get some help.