Reconceptualizing 'The Crime' in Veterans Treatment Courts
10 Pages Posted: 6 May 2015 Last revised: 8 Jun 2016
Date Written: May 1, 2015
Recent scandals involving the VA and high rates of suicides of veterans and active service members helped to raise public awareness about the consequences of military service which may manifest during duty and long after the soldier has been discharged. Veterans treatment courts (VTCs) recognize the negative impact of military service, particularly exposure to combat and/or war zones, and the enormous challenges faced in assimilating back into civilian life. Many leave service with mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or a substance abuse problem, caused by their military service. These conditions, together with learned behaviors that promoted survival in a war zone, such as hypervigilance and aggression, have the strong potential to lead to criminal behavior. This causal relationship has been demonstrated both in studies of vets of Vietnam and recent conflicts and the disproportionate number of veterans incarcerated over the last forty years. Veterans treatment courts, which are problem-solving courts in modality by favoring treatment over incarceration, recognize that military veterans are a unique subpopulation of defendants who could benefit from a special court tailored to their unique needs and common culture. VTCs, however, go one step further than their predecessor courts by reconceptualizing “the crime” as conduct prompted by an underlying condition and ultimately linked to exposure to combat and war zones, necessitated by their military service. Doing so avoids criminalizing conduct that was viewed favorably on the battlefield. VTCs, with their therapeutic justice model, allow communities to share in the criminal and moral responsibility for the underlying condition, which is appropriate given it is a consequence of service to the nation. Veterans treatment courts thus carry out an important part of the nation’s continuing duties to its veterans.
Keywords: veterans, military, veterans treatment courts, problem-solving court, diversion court, therapeutic jurisprudence, justice-involved veteran, combat exposure, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), substance abuse
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