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Veterans' treatment courts increasing, but more needed

The number of veterans' treatment courts is increasing here in North Carolina, as it has over the past eight years across the country. These specialized courts have been established to deal with military vets who are facing charges for minor crimes.

These courts do more than hold vets accountable for criminal actions. They provide services that help them deal with substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder -- two significant problems that men and women returning from battlefronts face. Often, these problems are what lead them to break the law for the first time in their lives. They also provide mentoring programs.

Often, vets who go through these courts are required to enroll in treatment programs and submit to drug and alcohol testing. They may be able to have their criminal record cleared after they've successfully completed their court program, which can take two to three years.

North Carolina's first veterans' treatment court was established in 2014 in Harnett County. Two more North Carolina courts, in Buncombe and Cumberland counties, have since opened. Another is coming soon in Forsyth County.

However, there are none currently planned for the populous Charlotte and Research Triangle areas. Advocates of these treatment courts estimate that North Carolina needs approximately 17 courts to adequately serve our state's military vets.

Although groups like Justice for Vets provides grants to help train court staff, money is a significant reason for the lack of needed veterans' treatment courts. So is enthusiasm and motivation to do the work needed to establish a court. However, advocates point out that these courts save millions in tax dollars by minimizing state court and prison costs.

They also help prevent recidivism rates by addressing the damage done to these men and women by war and getting them back on the right path. None of the 21 vets who have graduated from the Harnett County program has been rearrested. As one noted, "They pointed me in the right direction to get the help I need, because I was not that type of person before the military."

Veterans' treatment courts initially accepted only vets who had been honorably discharged. That's no longer a requirement. Therefore, vets who went AWOL due to PTSD or other psychological issues may be able to qualify for a court program. North Carolina attorneys can work to get veterans who have gotten in trouble with the law into a veterans' treatment court.

Source: WUNC, "Veterans' Courts Grow Quickly But Inconsistently in N.C., U.S.," Jay Price, Nov. 07, 2016

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