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he House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill that could help our veterans who are running into legal problems because of post-traumatic stress disorder and other brain injuries. Eighteen other states have already taken similar measures with good success.
The bill, introduced by Delegate Christopher P. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, would allow localities to enact a “veterans court” for veterans charged with nonviolent crimes. That program would offer access to treatment programs for veterans suffering from PTSD and other service-related disabilities. The Virginia Department of Veterans Services would cooperate with localities in administering the program.
One major hurdle: localities would have to fund the program on their own.
According to a story from Capital News Service, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are considered the “signature injuries” of the Iraq and Afghan wars, a recent Virginia Tech report on the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program found.
Unlike the visible injuries of earlier conflicts, these afflictions attack a veteran from the inside.
“Traumatic brain injury often manifests through drug and alcohol abuse. The veteran attempts to self-medicate,” Jack Hilgers, director of development for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, stated in the CNS story. And because of improved medical technology and response on the battlefield, veterans are surviving worse injuries than before which can lead to even more challenges for those veterans.
More challenges means more help is needed. The veterans courts could make a difference.
Veterans in pain, reliving their trauma, may fall back on the reactions that kept them alive in a combat situation, John Clickener of Tappahannock, a retired Marine infantry officer and the state legislative coordinator for the Virginia Council of Chapters of the Military Officers Association of America, told CNS. “Those skills don’t work in a civilian situation,” Clickener said. “We have men and women who have served three, four, even five tours of duty. There are no ‘lines’ in this war – nowhere is safe. And the dwell time (time between tours of duty) has been reduced. The normal social filters are not working for many of these folks.”
According to CNS, an estimated 820,000 veterans live in Virginia. About 260,000 of them have served since 2001, meaning they most likely served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Estimates of the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury could be as high as 40 percent of the returning population, CNS noted in its story.
The measure would allow the courts to be aware of “exceptional circumstances.” It’s worked in other places. Virginia, with its large veteran population, might benefit from this opportunity to help.
“We often talk about supporting our troops,” Stolle told CNS. “To me, supporting our troops means more than waving the flag when they come home. Supporting our troops means providing the help they need when they most need it. I think this bill is a small step in helping those veterans most in need.”
If it keeps a veteran who needs help out of jail, it would be well worth the effort.