Column: Veterans deserve help from court

The Tribune

Jackson County officials should take a look at a sentencing program involving military veterans that is being tried out in several Hoosier counties and consider adopting it locally.

Greenwood City Court Judge Lewis Gregory sees veterans arrested for misdemeanor crimes, such as possession of narcotics and battery. He believes many of them would not have committed the crimes had they received treatment for service-related conditions.

Veterans can suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, and Gregory thinks they either don’t realize they need counseling or don’t know where to get it.

Without counseling, the veterans can become repeat offenders, spending much of their lives on probation or in jail, according to Justice for Vets, a nonprofit organization.

However, a new program through the Greenwood City Court aims to help veterans who are charged with misdemeanor crimes and low-level felonies get the counseling they need. The program, which is accepting participants, will set veterans up with the Department of Veterans Affairs for counseling and hold them to stricter probation rules, such as visiting a probation officer daily and meeting with Gregory every other week.

Four counties in Indiana offer the veterans program, and Grant County is starting one. We’d like to see Jackson County join their ranks.

The program is designed to help veterans get help and counseling instead of falling back into the patterns of committing crimes, Chief Probation Officer Jodie Rittman said.

Not every veteran will be treated the same. The program and the counseling veterans will receive will be tailored to their needs, including treatment for depression, PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. Providing that counseling is part of the courts’ duties, Gregory said.

Veterans volunteered to fight for their country, and the changes in their personalities that can come from serving in the military sometimes makes them more likely to commit crimes, he said.

“If they’re doing it as a result of war injuries, we ought to be trying to help them,” Gregory said.

Not all veterans charged with a crime in Johnson County can participate in the program. Those arrested for dealing drugs or committing violent crimes, such as armed robbery, are not eligible. Veterans do not have to have served at war to be eligible for the program.

A grant from the U.S. Department of Justice paid for staff training and the initial setup of the court. Jackson County should seek such a grant to help our veterans.

A treatment team at the court will determine which veterans are eligible for the program after they are booked at the Johnson County jail.

“Veterans have a high risk of committing multiple offenses. We don’t want to see that happen,” Gregory said.

The Greenwood city court’s program is a humane and appropriate response to a unique set of problems. Veterans served their country. This effort recognizes their service and, more importantly, the unique toll that service can take on individuals.

We commend Judge Gregory for this initiative and suggest that Jackson County officials explore the program and offer it locally.

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