Murfreesboro ought to have a Veterans Treatment Court. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken an unprecedented toll on our men and women in uniform in terms of lingering issues like alcohol and drug abuse, PTSD, unemployment, and homelessness. While most veterans return home mentally and physically in tact, far too many struggle with these issues that too often lead to trouble in the criminal justice system. There are an estimated 67,000 homeless veterans, most of which suffer from alcohol or drug addiction, mental illness, or co-recurring disorders. Veteran’s unemployment is higher than the national average. One in six post 911 veterans has a substance abuse problem, and approximately twenty percent suffer from PTSD. These are all significant contributing factors to the estimated 700,000 veterans who are now in the criminal justice system nationwide. Rutherford County veterans are not immune to the issues vets face nationally. To assist the needs of local vets and our community, there is a rapidly growing interest in starting a Veterans Treatment Court in Murfreesboro. A Veterans Treatment Court is a court designed to address problems in our veteran population associated with their military service, and operates much like a Drug Court for veterans who become involved in our criminal justice system. The first Veterans Treatment Court started in Buffalo, NY in 2008, after a judge there noticed an increase in veterans on his Drug Court and Mental Health Court Dockets. Now there are more than a hundred throughout the country, including courts in Shelby, Davidson, and Montgomery County, Tennessee. These increasingly popular Courts involve cooperation between players typically found in Drug Courts or Mental Health Courts, like judges, district attorney, public defender, private defense counsel, treatment providers, and law enforcement. They also add to the mix various representatives of the Veterans Administration, State Veterans Affairs, Vet Service Organizations, Department of Labor, as well as all-important volunteer veteran mentors and other veteran support groups. Veterans Treatment Courts have been a very successful track record of addressing combat related veterans issues, and allow jurisdictions to serve a large segment of the justice-involved veteran population. Most Veterans Treatment Court judges handle numerous veterans’ cases, supported by an interdisciplinary team, which helps them to better understand and address issues that a veteran may be struggling with, whether it is substance addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or Traumatic Brain Injury. Here in Murfreesboro a Veterans Treatment Court is simply a no brainer. We have the need and the ability to provide one. Every essential element necessary for a successful program is already located right here at home– a large veteran population, a full service VA hospital to provide services such as assessment and treatment for alcohol and drug addiction, PTSD, and trauma related illnesses. We also have an infrastructure available in a very successful Drug Court program, which is capable of piloting a Veterans Treatment Court startup. Further, county government as well as organizations and other individuals outside of the justice system have expressed interest in a program. If the judiciary and legal community come aboard, and I anticipate that they will, there is very fertile ground to grow a much needed and highly successful Veterans Treatment Court program in our community that will benefit veterans and our community alike. Our wounded warriors deserve that, and a whole lot more. If you have questions or want more information about Veterans Treatment Courts, contact me at 615-962-7606.
Stan BennettStan’s practice at Bennett & Michael focuses on Personal Injury, Criminal Defense, Divorce, and Family related matters. He also practices in the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, in Washington D.C.