Planning begins for Veterans Treatment Court

Dseschutes D.A. says it will be more cost-effective, see better success

POSTED: 7:42 PM PST February 25, 2013    UPDATED: 7:43 PM PST February 25, 2013 
BEND, Ore. -

Mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse -- just some of problems often associated with those who serve our county,once they return home.

And the consequences can often lead to run-ins with the law --something Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty said can often be fixed with treatment rather than jail time.

"We want to be very careful to give them that second chance. Because they deserve it, for serving our country," Flaherty said Monday.

The DA's office is developing a Veterans Treatment Court to specifically address the needs of veterans.

Flaherty said special courts for veterans are growing in popularity across the U.S.

He said veterans have unique needs needing special attention in court.

"Veterans don't do well in the typical treatment court," Flaherty said. "Due to their background as military combat vets, they are humiliated by being in the courtroom with individuals that may be criminals for a long time."

While Flaherty said the program will likely cost big money up front, he also said it will be cost-effective in the end -- fewer vets going jail, streamlining court appearances. And the Veterans Administration will pay for mental and substance abuse treatment.

But perhaps most importantly, Flaherty said it will help reduce repeat offenders and steer veterans toward a far better path in life.

"(If you)  incarcerate them, and the depression gets worse, they get out -- this is what we've seen -- they're likely to re-offend and get in the system and get lost."

Central Oregon Veterans Outreach Executive Director Alison Perry agrees. She said sending vets straight to jail doesn't address underlying issues causing the illegal behavior.

"Punishment for somebody who has been in combat -- and may not even realize how they've been impacted -- is not a solution," Perry said.

Perry said veterans are disproportionately more likely than the general public to get in trouble with the law. She worked for six years as a counselor for the VA. She said veterans do not leave combat untouched, and often turn to substance abuse to cope with trauma.

COVO is helping the district attorney's office get the program running.

"Our hope is by creating a mentoring program ... we'd be able to draw on some of that life experience from other veterans to help mentor some of these young vets," she said.

But she said the program is not seen as a get-out of-jail free card.

"This is not a way to take away accountability for behavior," Perry said. "It's a mechanism to not only help the veteran, but members of the court understand the reasons for the behavior and the appropriate action."

Giving veterans the resources to get better -- and the court the tools to better understand their injuries.

The court could be implemented by next year.

To be eligible, veterans will have to meet specific requirements, including having served in combat.

Flaherty said violent offenses will not necessarily eliminate veterans from eligibility. The county likely will treat those individuals on a case-by-case basis.

The D.A.'s office was awarded a full grant for the training.