VA North Texas Health Care System
Veterans Treatment Courts Offer Second Chance
Thanks to a court program, Veterans in North Texas who are charged with misdemeanor or non-violent felony offenses are getting a second chance. With the Veterans’ Justice Outreach program, VA North Texas has partnered with four local counties to provide second chance opportunities to Veterans who have been arrested. Criminal court judges and district attorneys in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Smith counties have agreed to work closely with VA North Texas to allow Veterans to seek a treatment alternative.
Veterans’ Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists work within a 40-county area in North Texas to educate courts and attorneys about disorders among combat Veterans that will allow them to access the program and its services. Not all Veterans will qualify, but most will. Many Veterans, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses often need rehabilitative services. “It’s not only a way for us to help Veterans with their legal issues, but we can also enroll them for VA services they were not aware they were eligible for,” said Latisha Gaten, VJO specialist for VA North Texas.
Diagnoses of combat-related brain disorders such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder are on the list of eligible criteria for rehabilitative services through the Veterans’ Court program. Each county has the authority to set guidelines beyond those statutes that will deem a Veteran eligible or not based on the offense. Most counties share the guideline that Veterans must have served on active duty, received an honorable discharge and be charged with a probation-eligible crime.
Veterans who successfully complete the Veteran’s Court program will have their case dismissed, be eligible to have their records expunged and start over with a clean slate. “The goal is to provide medical treatment and other services to Veterans, such as housing assistance, to ensure the best possible medical and social outcome,” said Stephen Holt, M.D., deputy chief of staff at VA North Texas.
Because of the extensive assessments and arrangements made to help Veterans reposition their lives, the Veterans’Justice Outreach program takes a minimum of six months to complete. “The program seeks to provide mental health treatment and other critical services to Veterans if their medical condition contributed to their legal infraction. “We are trying to make Veterans better medically so they can become more productive members of society rather than wards of the state or inmates,” Dr. Holt said.
In Dallas and Tarrant County courts, there are currently 37 Veterans participating in the program. Thirty-three are OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom)/OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) Veterans, and four served during other conflicts. When a Veteran completes the program, the courts have a graduation ceremony to celebrate their success.
The Veterans’ Justice Outreach program hopes to assist as many Veterans as possible to reduce incarceration and recidivism. It’s just another way for VA North Texas and the many supporters of Veterans in the community are working hard to help Veterans rehabilitate and improve their health and well-being.