In 2015, Williamson County established a veteran’s treatment court for the purpose of providing resources and support for veterans accused of low-level crimes. This program assists veterans who struggle with issues like PTSD, or other issues that lead to self-medicating by connecting these individuals with services through the Veteran’s Administration and other service providers.
Does it work? County data suggests that providing a treatment court as opposed to handling the case through the normal criminal justice system significantly reduced the number of re-offending individuals over the past ten years.
Here’s a look a few of the benefits provided to veterans by the Williamson County program:
One of the major players in situations where veterans find themselves in trouble with law enforcement is the presence of untreated PTSD or other mental health conditions. The Williamson County Veteran’s Treatment Court (VTC) connects struggling veterans with programs and professionals that help with these types of situation. Placement in therapy programs, medication, and alternative treatments like regular exercise are all options that can help, but only a medical professional will be able to help you tell which option is right for you.
The key here is a diagnosis. Many veterans don’t seek medical attention for their issues and remain untreated or begin self-medicating with drugs or alcohol until they face consequences—like legal action (forced separation from the military) or criminal charges. In these cases, the most important thing a VTC does is to connect the struggling individual with an appropriate set of professionals so that they can obtain a diagnosis (if necessary) and begin treatment for the real issue at hand.
Case Management & Mentoring
Once an individual’s case is transferred to a VTC they will usually be assigned a case manager and an individualized treatment plan created based on their needs. These treatment plans may involve anything from housing assistance to medical services to educational benefits, but the goal is the same: To help veterans get back on their feet and take their place in their community again. Additionally, affected individuals are usually connected with a mentor who acts as both an accountability partner and a helping hand to assist them along the road to recovery.
Individuals who complete the program and appear regularly before the VTC judge for progress hearings may become eligible to have their records expunged at no cost to the veteran. In such a scenario, the individual’s name will be cleared, and no record of their arrest will remain on their record. While this is highly situational and depends on the individual and the severity of the crime, it remains a possibility for many individuals who pass through the VTC. Depending upon the severity of the charge, an individual must have completed the program and not incur any additional criminal charges in order to be eligible for expunction. Expunging offenses goes a long way towards helping struggling individuals avoid long-term consequences for a single mistake, because they can now say that they have NOT been convicted or charged with that particular criminal offense.
Why We Have a Veteran’s Treatment Court
Some folks ask, why do we need a separate court just for veterans? Shouldn’t they be treated just the same as everyone else when they break the law? When addressing such a question, it is important to understand that veterans who meet the eligibility requirements established by the Texas legislature, were folks that voluntarily undertook the obligation to serve in the U.S. military, and as a result of that service, now suffer from an illness or injury that they otherwise would not have suffered. If he individual was a law abiding citizen before joining the military, and suffered some type of injury/illness while in the service that caused their abnormal behavior, shouldn’t we, as a nation, want to help that individual as opposed to branding them as a criminal?
It is important to note that not every veteran, or every type of offense, will qualify for transfer to a VTC. The selection process does require that there be some type of connection between the individual’s service in the military, and their illness/injury. Furthermore, just because someone is accepted into the VTC does not mean that they are not going to suffer some consequences for their actions. The Williamson County VTC is a very intensive, hands-on program, where violations of the treatment plan or VTC rules results in adverse consequences, up to an including jail time. In some cases, continued repeated violations of the VTC rules, or the treatment plan, will result in the veteran being expelled from the VTC and facing their original charge with the same consequences as everyone else.
The veteran’s treatment court in Williamson County has been shown to provide substantial benefits for both veterans and the community. Participants have gone on to pursue education and employment, enjoy financial stability, and return to a functional civilian life. Like the other specialty courts in Williamson County, this program is a great example of how a little empathy, support, and forgiveness can go a long way towards solving real problems and providing treatment instead of punishment. Especially for those who have given parts of their lives in service of our country, it’s important to do our best to provide support and understanding when these individuals are struggling.