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Veterans Trauma Court trades punishment for problem solving

Military service veterans may suffer from combat-related illnesses or substance abuse issues.

If they run afoul of the law, appearing in the Veterans Trauma Court may serve them better than facing the types of penalties meted out in a traditional criminal court.

What it is

Veterans treatment courts exist in cities across the U.S. As alternatives to traditional criminal courts, they exist specifically to help veterans with the unique issues that result from their military service. In the state of Colorado, this is the Veterans Trauma Court. VTC operates through a format familiar to former service members that combines compassion, discipline and various types of counseling to address the issues they face in the criminal justice system.

During a court hearing, veteran defendants may stand at parade rest and respond to questions by answering “Yes ma’am” or “No sir,” just as they would in a military environment. A Justice Outreach Specialist with access to the veteran’s medical records might be present, or a representative from the Veterans Benefits Administration in connection with education and training resources. Volunteer veteran mentors may also be on hand.

How it works

A VTC judge understands the issues with which a former service member struggles, such as PTSD, substance addiction or a traumatic brain injury, and is in a better position to respond with alternatives to punishment or confinement. For example, the judge may approve a rehabilitation program based on the defendant’s specific needs, one that connects him or her to familiar services such as the Veterans Health Administration or the State Department of Veterans Affairs.

What to expect

The veteran must make regular appearances both at court and at treatment sessions and submit to random testing for drug or alcohol use. The VTC may also require the defendant to wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet. The court emphasizes support, and those who participate in treatment programs do so with fellow veterans while they concentrate on overcoming their psychological or substance dependency issues.

When the defendant completes a VTC program successfully, the judge may order a shortened probation period or even dismiss the charges that initially brought the defendant to the Veterans Trauma Court.

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