Veterans have always faced numerous issues, both personal and legal, when they got out of the military and returned to civilian life. But today, veterans make up a full 8% of the US arrestee, jail, prison, and community supervision population. Why is this so, and what can be done about it?
Unfortunately, returning to civilian life after serving in the military can be daunting at best. Not only must the veteran reconnect with his or her family and friends, (s)he also may well find himself or herself dealing with a civilian legal system considerably different from that of the military’s. All this on top of having to deal with such things as the following:
- Finding or establishing a new home
- Beginning the pursuit of a college education or reviving one that military service interrupted
- Finding a new job and/or pursuing a new career path
- Coexisting with unfamiliar people, values, and norms
Many veterans come home with psychological problems that can last for months, years, or even decades. PTSD is the most common psychological problem associated with veterans, but any given veteran can also suffer from the following:
- Survivor’s guilt
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse or addiction
- Shame and/or an exceedingly poor self-image resulting from an injury that left the veteran paralyzed, missing one or more limbs, blind, burned, scarred, or otherwise disfigured
Not surprisingly, if a veteran is dealing with a myriad of personal and psychological issues, (s)he likely will run afoul of the legal system sooner or later. This is especially true of veterans who commit minor misdemeanors, let alone major felonies, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s estimated that over 50% of justice-involved veterans have mental health issues, most notably alcohol or drug abuse. In addition, a large percentage of them are either at risk for homelessness or already homeless.
Veteran Treatment Courts
Many states and a few larger municipalities have instituted treatment courts that cater specifically to veterans who have committed a crime, but who also have been diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse disorder. These courts hand out alternative sentences to convicted defendants whereby instead of going to jail or prison, they enter a court-monitored treatment program. Veterans must qualify for these treatment courts and their alternative sentencing programs, and must make frequent court appearances so the judge can monitor their compliance and their progress.
Additional Veteran Help
Many law firms have joined in the effort to improve the lives of veterans. For instance, not only do Tully Rinckey professionals advocate for veterans’ rights, they also conduct seminars and events focusing on such veteran issues as housing, financial planning, starting a veteran-owned business, and numerous others.
In addition, Tully Rinckey law professionals hold free online events where veterans can learn about business formation, shareholder agreements and disputes, employer/employee issues, and many other things inherent in owning and operating a business. Tully Rinckey is itself a Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business.
While no civilian can ever fully understand what military life is like, especially for veterans who saw combat and witnessed their buddies dying in front of them, and/or suffered catastrophic injuries themselves, civilians can and must do more to recognize that veterans have legitimate issues, including personal ones, societal ones, and legal ones. Civilians likewise must do more to improve the legal system, the judicial system, and the correctional system, none of which does anywhere near enough to help veterans.
We cannot leave this important work to the politicians. Instead, we must become involved ourselves, at the community level, to help make America a better place for our returned veterans. Merely saying, “Thank you for your service” definitely does not get the job done. Nor does it begin to appropriately thank veterans for the sacrifices they made to defend this country.