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The Veterans Administration has recognized that the military experience and mentality of our Veterans can increase their reluctance to seek mental health care. Frequently, as with non-Veterans, mental illness untreated results in Veterans being charged with having committed serious crime and entering the Judicial System. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a big issue within our population of Veterans.

Reaching Justice-involved Veterans is a priority for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and several steps have been taken.

Mental health professionals, Veterans Outreach Coordinators (VJO) from VA Hospitals go to jails, meet with Veterans, determine needs, and facilitate a continuity of care throughout incarceration.

In 2008 in Buffalo New York, a Judge perceived that Veterans in his County mental health and drug courts are a unique subgroup of individuals, with shared experiences and particular needs, who could benefit from having a separate docket – recognition of Veterans’ unique military experience. Veterans Court, the first in the Country, was opened in Buffalo that year.

In 2009, the Texas State Legislature authorized the establishment of similar Veterans Courts in Texas and in December of that year Harris County opened the first Veterans Court in Texas. Harris County Veterans Court has served over 120 Veterans and the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center continues to provide appropriate healthcare.

Presently, there are 168 Veterans Courts in the United States.

Eligibility of a Veteran for the Veterans Court requires a review by the District Attorney’s office to assure the charges and the criminal history of the defendant are appropriate for the program. The Veteran undergoes a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation to determine the presence of illness and assess relationship to the alleged offense. Where such a relationship exists a treatment plan is drawn. The Veterans Affairs Medical Center provides ongoing treatment. This work benefits the Veteran, Society and reduces recidivism.

For many Veterans, the Court represents their entry into mental health treatment. For others, court-ordered programs provide a structure that facilitates successful treatment. In the Harris County Veterans Court, the majority of Veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder along with addictions. Before receiving VA mental healthcare, the common process of Veterans, as with the general population, is self-medication and avoidance of the problem through the use of alcohol and drugs.

Veterans Affairs Medical Centers provide comprehensive and integrated medical, mental health, and substance use treatment, along with rehabilitative programs and housing support.

Our Veterans return from war, many with wounds that land them in jail. Innovative programs such as Veteran Justice Outreach Coordinators, Veterans Courts, efforts of local community Justice systems, and the work of our national Veterans Affairs healthcare system are an ideal system of care for our Veterans.