Veterans offered a different type of court proceeding

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WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTIES – The Fourteenth Judicial Circuit is highlighting a program put in place to help veterans who suffer from conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

PTSD and TBI are present in 19 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2013 according to a 2016 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the United States Library of Medicine.

More than 20 percent of veterans with PTSD also suffer from an addiction or dependence on drugs or alcohol according to Recovery Worldwide Addiction Center website. 

These types of studies, combined with a large veteran population in the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, led to the court officials developing  a Veterans Treatment Court (VTC).  

First launched in 2019, VTC is a program for veteran offenders with substance abuse and mental health issues. The two-year program targets veterans who have committed non-violent felony or misdemeanor crimes and live in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson or Washington County. 

Participants are required to attend in and/or outpatient treatment through the Veterans Administration, AA/NA meetings, submit to random drug testing, report to the veteran court judge/coordinator twice a month, abide by the rules of the program and report to their probation officer as ordered. 

Eligible offenders include those who are currently service members or who have served and obtained an honorable or general under honorable conditions discharge if they have PTSD, or any military related mental illness, TBI, substance abuse disorder or psychological issues. Entry into the program is completely voluntary however, the sentencing court will consider prior criminal history, military service, substance abuse treatment, mental health needs and the recommendation of the State’s Attorney and the victim before acceptance to the program is approved. 

State Attorney Larry Basford call the program important and effective. 

“Some veterans who violate the law have substance abuse and or mental health problems that may be service related,” said Basford. “Veteran’s Treatment Court helps veterans get the help they need to deal with those problems and become productive members of our community again while holding them accountable for their crimes.” 

“For some offenders, Veteran’s Treatment Court has been extremely effective in helping the participants get back on their feet,” added Basford. “For some it was not as effective, but for the majority, it has helped bring some stability and coping mechanisms to their lives.” 

The recidivism rate for offenders who complete the program is lower than offenders who are on standard probation, according to Basford. 

“In most cases, the completion of Veteran’s Treatment Court diverts the participant from otherwise going to the Department of Corrections. The sentences handed down are typically similar to regular court proceedings but in VTC the offender has more accountability, supervision and mentoring than an offender in standard proceedings. For those that have completed the program, the recidivism rate is approximately 20 percent.” 

To date, only five veterans have successfully completed the program due to hardships and difficulties created by Hurricane Michael and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Basford says the most important thing he wants people to know about VTC is its level of accountability. 

“VTC provides opportunities and resources to help rehabilitate those who want the help,” said Basford. “And it does this all while holding veterans accountable for their mistakes.” 

“We have a very large veteran population in our area, and we owe a debt to the men and women who have served our country,” said Basford. “Veteran’s Treatment Court is one way we can help.” 

For more information on Veteran’s Treatment Court, contact the Veteran’s Treatment Manager Shonta Covington at (850) 767-3567.

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