Deschutes DA creating Veterans Treatment Court

Special courts work to address veterans' issues

BEND, Ore. - The Deschutes County District Attorney's Office said Friday it is working with local and national organizations to train for and fund a Deschutes County Veterans Treatment Court.

VTCs are specialty courts specifically tailored to address the issues that commonly surround a veteran's entry into the criminal justice system.

In a news release Friday, the office said, "While District Attorney Patrick Flaherty is aware that most veterans are strengthened by their military service, combat exposure has left a growing number of veterans with serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) conditions."

One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment, he said. One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffers from a substance abuse issue.

Also, research now demonstrates a link between substance abuse and combat–related mental illness. Left untreated, these mental health disorders often lead to a combat veteran's entanglement with the criminal courts.

The VTC model requires regular court appearances, attendance at treatment sessions and frequent and random testing for substance use (drug and/or alcohol). Veterans, given their past military experience, respond favorably to this structured environment.

Some will struggle; it is exactly these veterans who are most in need of the VTC program. Absent the VTC structure, these veterans may reoffend.

VTCs provide a successful and proven avenue to allow theses combat veterans to meet their obligations to themselves, the court, and their community.

The expectation is that these veterans will ultimately return to their families and communities with dignity and life skills that will decrease the likelihood of recidivism.

Flaherty has taken the initiative to apply for nationally recognized VTC training programs and work with local non-profit groups and agencies to move toward VTC implementation in Deschutes County.

Deschutes County was recently selected for 2014 participation in the Veterans Treatment Court Planning Initiative training program sponsored by Alexandria, Virginia-based Justice for Vets. Further,

Flaherty's team expects to observe and train with an active VTC this year.

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