Military personnel who swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States have a strong sense of discipline and duty. When they return to civilian life, most continue to contribute to their communities and nation although some as a result of their military service struggle with personal difficulties and become a burden on the community. Some struggle because they do not have skills that are transferable to the civilian economy. Obviously, there is little civilian demand for skills such as trigger puller, tank driver, or explosives expert. Others struggle because they suffer as a result of their military service from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other maladies. In earlier eras PTSD has been described by such terms as battle fatigue and shell shock although the signs are consistent across time. Symptoms may include persistent frightening thoughts and memories, inability to concentrate or stay on task, emotional numbness and detachment from people with whom they were once close, sleep disorders, hypersensitive startle response, and impulsive behavior.
Studies by experts at Stanford University and the Rand Corporation have reached different conclusions as to the percentage of personnel suffering from PTSD as a result of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but all agree that the disorder is common. Its occurrence could be as high 35 per cent of the approximately two million troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, as many as ten per cent of the military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan may suffer from Traumatic Brain Damage (TBI) as a result of exposure to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). TBI can result in physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects and those suffering from TBI are more susceptible to PTSD. Depending on the extent of the damage, required treatment may be minimal or interventions such as medications, physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy may be needed.
Unfortunately, veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI and other invisible wounds of service sometimes come in contact with the criminal justice system and end up incarcerated. When no alternatives are provided these veterans, the damage done to individuals and the community can be dramatic and long term. Without help, many veterans who suffer from psychological impairment may end up homeless or trapped in the revolving door of repeated incarcerations. Fortunately, veterans courts provide an alternative by directing veterans to appropriate social service agencies for needed assistance. Veterans courts operate by identifying veterans as soon as they come in contact with the criminal justice system. Once identified, a coordinator then contacts the veteran to screen and assess the veteran and the circumstances.
When appropriate, the veteran is offered needed treatment and resources such as drug treatment or skills training. And while in the program, the veteran is monitored by the court so that progress can be rewarded and failure to cooperate or further misbehavior can be punished. The veterans court program supports the veterans by recognizing their past service.The program builds on veterans’ sense of duty and disciple to re-kindle self worth and a desire to contribute to the community.
In March 2010, a pilot veterans court program; Courts Assisting Veterans (CAV), was started in Florida by Chief Judge Lee Haworth in Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit that includes DeSoto, Manatee, Sarasota Counties. Gulf Coast Community Foundation funded the program with an initial grant for one year. As the grant year neared termination, the Manatee and Sarasota Counter Commissions recognized the program’s value and both voted unanimously to continue funding the program.
An Afghanistan War veteran, Scott Driscoll, was hired by the court as the program coordinator. He first determined the need for various social services and then identified the agencies and resources available in the community to meet the need, i.e., substance abuse programs, schooling, housing, etc. In the first seven months of the pilot program, 191 veterans came in contact with the criminal justice system and 153 utilized the program. While the program is voluntary, veterans volunteer at high rates because the coordinator, a veteran who has deployed to a war zone, encourages them. He succeeds because he can establish rapport with fellow veterans easier than those with no military experience and he understands how to communicate with the veterans about their issues.
Veterans who work under the supervision of the coordinator volunteer as mentors and serve as a program resource. Mentors help guide participants through the process and provide support from the prospective of their own military experience. Mentors do everything from making reminder phone calls regarding appointments and court dates to assisting with transportation. They listen and provide a voice of reason. Unfortunately, those trained for military roles often deny personal problems. Their pride and self-reliance causes them to resist help and they may isolate themselves. The can-do attitude instilled by the military sometimes backfires so that strength becomes a weakness. As a result, many suffering from psychological problems do not get help and some end up on the wrong side of the law or with other problems. Historically, veterans have experienced high rates of suicide, divorce, substance abuse, and homelessness.
Veterans court breaks down resistance so that the veterans are more willing to seek help and open up about issues that may otherwise stay hidden. In the brief time the 12th Judicial Circuit CAVS program has been in operation, the coordinator, mentors and others have observed first hand veterans who have been helped with problems like drug abuse, or poor impulse control. With the help provided by the program they have overcome their difficulties to become productive community members. With this positive record, no one questions the fact the CAVS programs is accomplishing its mission and can serve as a model for other programs. Florida Veterans for Common Sense has been involved with the CAVS program since its inception and supports establishing Veterans Courts statewide.
For more information or if a veteran you know could benefit from CAVS please get in touch with Scott today.Scott Driscoll SFC. Army/FLARNG Courts Assisting Veterans Coordinator Judicial Center 2002 Ringling Boulevard Sarasota, FL 34237 941-861-8138 941-323-9657 (Cell) firstname.lastname@example.org 12th Judicial Circuit website here