Army vet Donald Belts in 2012 in his cell in Aberdeen, Wash.
Nextgov.com reports -- The 700,000 veterans cosigned to the dustbins of society—prisons and jails—won some top level attention this week at the first national Vet Court Conference in Washington, which brings together 1,000 judges, mental health and substance abuse professionals and the leadership of the Veterans Affairs and Defense Departments.
The conference, sponsored by the Justice for Vets division of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, focuses on veterans involved in the criminal justice system as a result of substance abuse and mental health problems. There are some grim statistics behind this issue: One in sex returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from a substance abuse disorder; since 2004, the number of veterans treated for mental illness and substance abuse has increased 38 percent, and 81 percent of arrested veterans had a substance abuse problem.
The first veterans treatment court in the country was established in 2008 by Judge Robert Russell in Buffalo, N.Y. The goal was to divert veterans charged with felony or misdemeanor nonviolent criminal offenses to a specialized criminal court that emphasizes treatment and rehabilitation guided by veteran health care professionals, veteran peer mentors and mental health professionals.
Since then, the number of veteran courts has grown to 130. Melissa Fitzgerald, senior director of Justice for Vets, said the specialized courts “have gained national prominence as the most innovative solution for veterans entering the criminal justice system. Veterans treatment courts stand between the veteran and a felony conviction, incarceration or worse, ensuring that when returning service members are arrested because of a substance abuse and/or mental health disorder, they receive the structure, treatment and mentoring they need to get their lives back on track.”
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, in his keynote speech at a conference Monday, said that homelessness also stands out as another key factor for incarceration. He said, “nearly 58,000 [veterans] are estimated to be homeless on any given night. I am told that incarceration is the No. 1 predictor of homelessness.
“If we are going to break the cycle between incarceration and homelessness, we will have to raise our level of collaboration and leverage all our assets to address these factors, which seem so pervasive when dealing with troubled Veterans—depression, insomnia, substance use disorder, pain, failed relationships.”
Shinseki said this includes VA taking a sharp look at its own use – some critics say abuse – of addictive, prescription pain killers, such as Oxycontin.
Read more: http://www.nextgov.com/defense/2013/12/va-and-defense-chiefs-confront-reality-700000-incarcerated-veterans/74816/?oref=nextgov_today_nl
More related articles: http://www.thedailybeast.com/the-hero-project/articles/2013/09/30/va-pushing-pills-and-getting-vets-hooked-on-opiates.html