Witham: Let’s support bill to improve Veterans Treatment Court


William L. Witham Jr. is a retired judge for the Delaware Veterans Treatment Court. He resides in Dover.

Veterans in Delaware face a variety of challenges after serving in the military. These challenges include increased risks for substance abuse disorders, mental illnesses, suicide, chronic pain and trauma, as well as unstable housing and unemployment. Many of these conditions are present when veterans are arrested for misdemeanor and minor felony offenses, such as driving while intoxicated, drug offenses and domestic-related matters, among other crimes.

The Veterans Treatment Court in Delaware was established in February 2011, with the mission to successfully rehabilitate veterans with substance abuse and mental health issues charged with minor felonies and misdemeanors by diverting them from the traditional criminal justice system and providing them the tools they need to lead productive and law-abiding lives. We have graduated over 450 to date. The court operates as a problem-solving court, with a focus on treatment and education, rather than punishment. Beginning in the 1990s, new problem-solving-oriented policing ideas were tested to address patterns of crime. These new policing strategies inspired new innovative justice programs, to include Veterans Treatment Courts. With the increasing number of veterans returning from numerous deployments and conflicts, combat stress exposure has increased the risk of posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as traumatic brain injury and substance abuse disorders.

There is an inherent belief that our servicemen and -women who commit their lives to defend our country are owed a special consideration when they return to civilian lives. They are often broken in mind and spirit, and engage in criminal activity directly related to service experience.

The Superior Court’s Veterans Treatment Court defers the arrest or probation for the purpose of treating underlying conditions of substance and mental issues, with victim approval, by placing the veteran in an appropriate program with the Department of Veterans Affairs or with a state substance abuse and mental health provider. Their progress is carefully monitored by a Veterans Treatment Court judge. Once the personally designed program is complete, with the charges dismissed, and the veteran graduates, he or she will have any license to drive restored without any additional cost or delay.

House Bill 349 is an important improvement to the Veterans Treatment Court program, as it will allow our qualified rehabilitation programs to be approved under Title 21, Section 4177D of the Delaware Code and have the graduate’s driver’s license reinstated. It will shorten the process for restoration of our rehabilitated veterans to become law-abiding citizens without additional cost to our justice-involved veterans or the state.

The bill has passed the General Assembly and is awaiting the governor’s signature. It is supported by the Delaware Veterans Coalition, the Friends of Delaware Veterans and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

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