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Special Courts Help Veterans Get Back on Track in Civilian Life

An op-ed piece appearing Wednesday in the New York Times in time for Veterans Day discusses how special courts designated for veterans can help our country's service members stay on track after they return to civilian life. The piece, A Special Court for Veterans, was written by Ronald D. Castille, who served as a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam and now serves as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Castille points out that almost 20 percent of the 1.6 million veterans of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He says that sometimes service members' "psychological strength becomes their weakness" because they deny they suffer from PTSD or need help. Instead, they might turn to alcohol or drugs. Many service members end up divorced, homeless or commit suicide. Veterans may end up in jail for crimes that were a result of their experiences, Castille says, more than "criminal intent." 

Pennsylvania opened the first court reserved just for veterans, and since then, courts have opened in California, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. The veterans courts have the aim of helping veterans recover from PTSD outside of the prison system.

Veterans who are charged with nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession, and are found to be suffering from mental health issues and/or substance abuse are diverted to a special docket where they can receive treatment instead of going through trial. They also have the support of a mentor and are regularly monitored.

The courts also give the veterans a sense of camaraderie and remind them of their sense of pride and courage as a veteran. Castille reports that the courts are highly successful; there are no cases of recidivism and 90 percent of veterans complete the treatment program.

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