Court created for veterans

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The 4th Judicial District is creating a special court for war veterans who commit nonviolent crimes.

It’s intended to give them an added opportunity for treatment instead of punishment.
But not everyone thinks that’s a good idea.

The district attorney’s office unveiled plans for the court during a press conference yesterday, but a pilot program has been under way for weeks. About 10 veterans have gone through the court so far.

“It’s less about punishment, and more about getting them the help they need,” said Rich Lindsey, peer navigator at Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group and a member of the veterans’ court steering committee. “It’s about making them whole again after the war.”

The Colorado Division of Behavioral Health estimates that about 1,540 vets will go through the court during the life of the five year grant.

Soldiers who are charged with a lower-level felony in the 4th Judicial District, who experienced trauma related to military service and have been diagnosed with a trauma spectrum disorder and who want to actively participate in treatment are eligible for the court.

The veterans’ court gathers information about soldiers who have committed crimes and determines who should be eligible for the court.

Veterans who used a weapon for crime or commit a crime that involves serious violence are not eligible The court also considers statements from people close to the veteran about what they were like before their war experience – and what they are like now.

“Many of these returning veterans have psychological problems,” Lindsey said. “These problems are a direct result of their combat experience.”

He said they have had some domestic violence cases go through the court – but only cases that don’t have serious injuries.

The court stops veterans from having a local conviction and will assist them in maintaining their military careers and get them treatment for psychological issues.

El Paso County’s court is modeled after one in Buffalo, New York, the first of its kind in the country established two years ago, and since then, similar courts have been created in other cities.

The courts were created as a response to the waves of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan committing crimes. But advocates of the courts nationwide say they address a problem as old as combat itself.

Most of the veterans’ courts are modeled on drug courts that allow defendants to avoid prison in exchange for stricter monitoring.

Alaska, California, Nevada and Oklahoma have such courts. The Nevada plan requires veterans to successfully complete a treatment program. Once that’s finished, their criminal records are sealed.

In other states, both the American Civil Liberties Union and domestic violence groups have complained that the courts give special treatment to soldiers guilty of crimes they should be punished for.

But, the Colorado chapter of the ACLU is giving active support to the court, said Loring Wirbel, co-chair of the ACLU in Colorado Springs.

However, that’s not the case with TESSA, a nonprofit organization that offers safe homes, treatment and therapy to domestic violence victims.

TESSA’s executives have mixed feelings about the court.

“It’s a complex, nuanced issue,” said Executive Director Connie Brachtenbach, “We know that veterans who serve in combat have some unique, serious mental health issues as a result of that trauma. We understand and support them getting all the help they need.”

But using PTSD or traumatic brain injury as the reason for violence is wrong, she said, adding that domestic violence victims themselves are frequently diagnosed with PTSD, and they seldom resort to violence.

“I don’t believe that PTSD and any kind of brain injury can be held out as an excuse for violent behavior,” she said. “That argument doesn’t hold water.”

Brachtenbach said that TESSA wasn’t consulted or asked to participate in creation of the court.

Brachtenbach also feels spurned that the district has not created a family court, something she’s been working on for years.

“We’ve been told it would take moving mountains, it could never happen,” she said. “It was too complicated. But this court – and the money for it – seemed to appear without even the input from people in the community who might have a stake in the outcome.”

Local Army officials are glad the court has been created.

“Fort Carson enjoys a great relationship with the Colorado Springs community,” Lt. Col. Steve Wollman, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer, said in an e-mail statement. “We have strong working relationships with the local law enforcement community … The establishment of the El Paso County Veterans Court is another example of this community’s commitment.”

News reports say that of more than 100 veterans who have gone through the Buffalo court, only two had to be returned to the regular criminal court system – a lower recidivism rate than in drug courts.

Lindsey said the creation of the court is a subject that’s close to his heart.

“I got involved because I am a veteran, and because of the work I do with Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group,” he said. “I already help veterans and their families navigate the civilian systems that they need when a soldier returns from war. I’ve been in Colorado Springs for 10 years, so I am very familiar with the courts and other systems out there.”

5 Responses to Court created for veterans

  1. Is there a way that veterans can get involved in helping to run Veterans Court? Please post contact information. Thanks

    Mike Pierson
    February 25, 2010 at 11:31 am

  2. Connie Brachtenbach is correct that this is a “complex, nuanced issue”. However, there is certainly an unequivical correlation between PTSD and male perpetuated domestic violence (DV). As an example, the National Vietnam Veteran’s Readjustment Study (1992) found that “one third of [Vietnam Veterans] with PTSD engaged in intimate partner violence over the previous year, compared with a 13.5% rate for those without PTSD.” In addition, researchers with the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are now studying the relationship between PTSD and DV among vets of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Early evidence indicates that the development of posttraumatic psychopathology, and particularly PTSD, is strongly associated with the development of vioence and abusive behavior in relationships. Early results also show that combat exposure, as well as perceived war danger, correlates to higher incidences of DV, primarily due to PTSD symptoms.

    PTSD should not be used as an “excuse” for DV; rather it should be an indicator to connect justice involved veterans with treatment whenever appropriate.

    With regards to funding, the current 4th District Veteran’s Treatment Court is running on a very small grant. Bills at the federal level (HR 2138 and SB 902) are designed to provide additional grants to Veteran’s Treatment Courts around the country; funding comes from VA and DoD budgets.

    Buddy Gilmore
    National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

    Buddy Gilmore
    February 25, 2010 at 12:53 pm

  3. One way for veterans to get involved in helping the Veteran Trauma Court is the Veteran Peer Specialist Program. Peer Specialists are military veterans who volunteer to act as mentors and provide one-on-one support to veterans that are participating in the Trauma Court. It is a great opportunity for volunteers to make a powerful difference in the lives of fellow veterans and have a positive impact on our community. If you are interested in becoming a Peer Specialist, please contact Michael Bryant from Mental Health America of Pikes Peak Region at (719) 633-4601 Ext. 113 or email at mbryant@pppartnership.org.

    Michael Bryant
    Veteran Peer Specialist Volunteer Coordinator

    Michael Bryant
    March 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm

  4. There have been many studies published on the correlation between PTSD and Intimate Partner Violence. This is a very complex issue, and not one that is easily remedied. I highly recommend to anyone interested in this issue that you read “Intimate partner violence among military veterans and active duty servicemen,” by Amy D. Marshall, Jillian Panuzio, and Casey T. Taft. You can find the article at http://www.sciencedirect.com. The article describes how there is a high correlation between PTSD and Intimate Partner Violence, but does not confirm a causal relationship. The article also finds that “standard treatments are ineffective for active duty servicemen.”

    In another article titled, “A growing problem for veterans — domestic violence,” (http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/12902.aspx) experts recommend concurrent treatment for PTSD and Intimate Partner Violence, describing that through community collaboration we have a good shot at increasing offender accountability and victim safety.

    If the goal of the Veteran Court is to help soldiers, it should do so by addressing ALL issues at hand, including Intimate Partner Violence and even drug and alcohol treatment. The veteran’s family should have a strong voice in court, since they are also affected by the veteran’s mental health and domestic violence issues. Holistic services are needed if we hope to affect change in the veteran and help him/her to be a healthy member of society.

    Rachel
    March 4, 2010 at 10:59 am

  5. The main problem is that the public has no understanding of what PTSD does to the mind of the combat soldier.The military has failed miserably in diagnosing and treating PTSD. Psychotherapy is not effective in treating PTSD and has failed in helping our Vietnam veterans during the past 40 years. Soldiers failing drug tests on Base are given a less-than-honorable discharge. They are thrown into the street like garbage. They are courageous warriors who have been to HELL and back protecting America, our freedom and our way of justice. The military trained our soldiers to be “ruthless killers” and they learned well. They can fly home and 24 hours later these warriors are expected to act civilized. It will never happen. Their minds are still on the battefield and now everyone is still their enemy. It is time to wake up and give our heroes the justice they fought for. If you truly want to understand and help the soldier with PTSD I strongly recommend buying the DVD “OPERATION: Emotional Freedom”. It is available in Ingrid Ditner’s website http://ingriddinter.com/ I am an EFT Coach and have been very successful in working with Vietnam veterans. I meet them on a warrior level and eliminate their guilt and emotional reaction to the combat memories. I provide this service at no cost.
    It is time we showed some compassion for our courageous warriors. Their treatment in your courts is a disgrace.

    David Paul
    July 18, 2010 at 6:47 am