Honoring our veterans means ensuring they have stable housing, employment and educational opportunities. It means treating their invisible wounds of war just as earnestly as we treat their physical wounds.
This Veterans Day, as we pause to pay tribute to the men and women who bear the burden of safeguarding our freedom, we must ensure we extend our gratitude to all veterans — even those who struggle to cope here at home. That means doing more than just putting a “support our troops” bumper sticker on our cars or sharing a “thanks veterans” post on Facebook.
As our policymakers at all levels discuss the state of our mental-health system and ways to improve it, I strongly urge them to consider funding problem-solving courts throughout our state. Many of these courts already exist, such as the King County Regional Veterans Court, mental-health courts, community courts, DUI courts and drug courts. All of these collaborative courts have proved successful in reducing crimes and increasing court participants’ connections to community services.
Most veterans are strengthened by their service and are vital members of the community. In fact, research shows veterans are more likely than nonveterans to be civically engaged; veterans are more likely to vote, volunteer, give to charity, work with neighbors to fix problems in the community and attend public meetings.
But, we also know that some veterans have difficulty adjusting in their return to civilian life. Many veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, and one in six has a substance-use disorder, according to U.S. Department of Justice data. When these issues lead to involvement in the criminal-justice system locally, the King County Regional Veterans Court ensures they receive the treatment, structure and mentoring needed to get their lives back on track.
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Traditionally, when veterans become involved in the criminal-justice system, they have been scattered throughout our system, making it difficult to coordinate effective treatment interventions. Our Regional Veterans Court solves this problem by clustering veterans onto a single docket and linking them with individualized treatment and resources designed with their military service in mind. Through this approach, we can bring to bear the myriad local, state and federal resources exclusive to veterans, including representatives from Veterans Affairs, vet centers, veteran-service organizations, volunteer veteran mentors and other support organizations.
From the camaraderie during military service to the isolation many veterans experience in the transition from their military service, veterans experience a dramatic change in environment that can magnify mental-health issues and result in unhealthy substance use. Many struggle to accept help. In Regional Veterans Court, those who served in our nation’s Armed Forces participate in the treatment court process with their fellow veterans, affirming that they are not alone in their struggle.
One of the keys to our Regional Veterans Court success is a collaborative team approach to address the underlying issues. Clinicians, veteran justice officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, victim advocates, social workers and court staff all work together to support our veterans. Additionally, other veterans from the community volunteer to serve as mentors to veterans involved in the program. By pairing struggling veterans with a volunteer veteran mentor, our court gives both parties the chance to reclaim a sense of honor, duty and leadership — values that make our veterans the backbone of American society. In serving as mentors, volunteer veterans find a sense of fulfillment and empowerment that can only be achieved when one veteran comes to the aid of another.
Honoring our veterans means ensuring they have stable housing, employment and educational opportunities. It means treating their invisible wounds of war just as earnestly as we treat their physical wounds. When substance-use and mental-health disorders lead veterans into the criminal-justice system, the proper response should be to determine whether justice is best served by diverting them into a veterans treatment court where they can receive the appropriate treatment and supervision.