Each year, more active and retired military veterans are found to be struggling with mental health injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression, anxiety, and acute stress disorder. Some individuals turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their injuries which can lead to encounters with the criminal justice system. The Senate approved Senate Bill 1222, by Sen. Frank Simpson, Tuesday to help address the special needs of veterans.
“Many times, veterans come back from service wounded, physically and emotionally, which makes it hard for them to return to their old lives. Because of this we’re seeing an increase in poverty, homelessness, and unemployment among our soldiers,” said Simpson, R-Ardmore. “Unfortunately, many are also finding themselves getting caught up in the legal system because they haven’t gotten the counseling and therapy they so desperately need.”
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections recently conducted a survey of inmates and found there were over 1,500 incarcerated offenders with military experience in the state’s correctional system.
Senate Bill 1222 authorizes any district or municipal court to establish a Veterans’ Treatment Program. These programs would utilize specially trained court personnel to expedite the case and explore alternatives to incarceration for veterans or service members charged with criminal offenses who are in need of treatment for PSTD, TBI, mental health issues, or substance abuse treatment.
The measure allows the jurisdiction to request assistance from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or other community-based programs for assistance and for treatment services. Funding for the programs will come from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Veterans’ unique issues deserve special consideration and attention. Veterans courts around the country are proving successful; and given our state’s large veteran population, we need more of them to help our heroes get their lives back on track,” said Simpson.
The first Veteran Treatment Court was created in 2008 in New York. Since then others have been launched in more than 50 cities and counties across the country. Oklahoma, Tulsa and Creek Counties currently already have special veterans’ court programs and Comanche County is working on creating one.
SB 1222 will now move to the House for further consideration.