Vail Valley Voices: Veterans in trouble with the law need our help
Vail, CO, Colorado
“The surprising thing, when you think about it, is not that some soldiers go out of their minds after they’ve been in combat. The surprising thing is not all of them do.” (Editorial, Round Rock Leader, June 26)
In a dark courthouse back hallway, I had a firearm pointed at me by a sheriff’s deputy, unholstering his service weapon and leveling it straight at me as I walked toward him.
A split second before I wet my suit pants in fear, the deputy just as quickly put the gun away and apologized profusely, stating that he thought I was somebody else whom he was going to play a joke on.
For only a moment, confronted by a force I was defenseless to answer, I felt my life was threatened.
Imagine how it feels to be on the wrong end of a barrel. It is no joking matter.
Many current and former military service men and women, volunteering to defend our country, put themselves on the targeted end of lethal force.
My hallway experience reminds us that in doing their job in defense of country, soldiers accept the potential for lifelong stress reactions, traumatic brain injuries, and psychological symptoms from which escape is difficult and which can lead to family crises, including domestic violence.
According to the National Veterans Technical Assistance Center, 9 percent of the total jail and prison population is comprised of veterans, and as compared to our whole population, a greater proportion of veterans are serving time for violent offenses.
In Colorado Springs, a federally funded program enables their local courts to craft programs specifically tailored to help veterans’ unique needs.
This program enables any veteran discharged other than dishonorably with a service connected trauma who is facing criminal charges that are not aggravated, such as involving injury to a child, to earn a case dismissal of the case after no more than a two-year, community-based rehabilitative program.
These participants engage in peer, substance-abuse and mental-health counseling. The program can include enabling access to practical resources, assisting veterans and their families to more effectively manage their daily needs.
Obviously, because of the proximity to the Army’s Fort Carson and other bases, there is a larger need for veterans services in Colorado Springs than in our mountain community.
However, our local veterans are beginning to ask whether we should have services tailored to meet the needs of their brothers and sisters here.
I think the answer is yes.
Because the residents of our judicial district — comprised of Clear Creek, Summit, Eagle and Lake counties — have an outstanding record of public service with many well organized and active veterans groups, a critical component of the Colorado Springs model for specialized services for veterans in criminal courts, peer mentoring, could easily be filled by our community.
Peer mentoring connects the veteran to somebody who can relate to their history and help them get back on their feet.
Also, our probation offices have well-trained and professional staffs that could facilitate many of the components of veterans court programs.
Currently, there is no specific programming for veterans on probation to our courts.
In order to institute a program for a veterans court, the criminal justice system first needs to identify eligible defendants.
Police officers during the arrest process can collect military service history as part of the booking routine.
From there, both the prosecutor and defense attorney can refer appropriate individuals for a screening, orientation, and specific programming recommendations for specialized veteran services, lasting one to two years.
If we lack the resources to get a stand-alone program up and running, then at least we can address the individual needs of veterans on probation with an eye to treating their specific needs.
If elected district attorney on Nov. 6, I am determined to address whether this type of veterans court programming can be integrated into our justice community.
This philosophy is compatible with resources available to other offenders who benefit from drug and alcohol courts, and with our conscience.
Bruce Brown has been am attorney for 26 years and practices in Clear Creek County. He is also is the Democratic candidate for district attorney of the 5th Judicial District, which includes Eagle County. He can be reached at bruce@brucebrownlaw
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