This Veterans Day, as we pause to pay tribute to the men and women who bear the burden of having safeguarded our freedom, we must ensure that our gratitude is extended to all veterans, even those who struggle to cope right here at home. Most veterans are strengthened by their service and are vital members of the community. In fact, research shows veterans are more likely than non-veterans to be civically engaged: More likely to vote, volunteer, give to charity, work with neighbors to fix problems in the community and attend public meetings.
We also know that some veterans have difficulty adjusting. It’s estimated that one in five post-9/11 veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, and one in six has a substance use disorder. When these issues lead to involvement in the justice system, Vigo County Veterans Treatment Court provides the treatment, structure and mentoring needed to get their lives back on track.
Traditionally, justice-involved veterans have been scattered throughout the court system, making it difficult to coordinate effective interventions. Our Veterans Treatment Court solves this problem by clustering veterans onto a single docket and linking them with resources uniquely designed for the distinct needs that can arise from military service. Through this approach, we can bring to bear the myriad of local, state and federal resources exclusively available to, and designed for, veterans.
From the camaraderie during military service to the isolation many veterans experience in the transition home, veterans experience a dramatic change in environment that can magnify mental health issues and result in unhealthy substance use. Without the support of other veterans, some struggle to accept help. In Veterans Treatment Court, those who served in our nation’s Armed Forces participate in the treatment court process with their fellow veterans, re-instilling the sense of solidarity they experienced while in the military.
One of the keys to Veterans Treatment Court success has been volunteer veterans from the community who serve as mentors to veterans involved in the program. By pairing struggling veterans with a volunteer veteran mentor, our court gives both parties the chance to reclaim a sense of honor, duty and leadership — values that make our veterans the backbone of American society. In serving as mentors, volunteer veterans find a sense of fulfillment and empowerment that can only be achieved when one veteran comes to the aid of another. Leave no veteran behind.
Honoring our veterans means ensuring they have stable housing, employment and education opportunities. It means treating their invisible wounds of war just as earnestly as we would treat their physical wounds. When substance use and mental health disorders lead veterans into the justice system, the proper response should be to determine whether justice would be best served by diverting them into a Veterans Treatment Court where they can receive the appropriate treatment and supervision.
Veterans fought for our freedom. We must fight for theirs. It’s the right thing to do.