Proposal to help vets adjust to life after service - - Columbia, South Carolina

Proposal to help vets adjust to life after service


They leave to serve their country in times of conflict and uncertainty.

But statistics show at least 20% of returning veterans have trouble adjusting upon their return. And a similar percentage find themselves living on the streets.

One in every ten prison inmates is a war veteran. That's why many believe a proposed bill is a good way to help those who've served and continue to struggle to re-adjust to society.

These men know the terror of war. Now it's their goal as lawmakers to establish a safety net in the justice system for vets struggling with the traumatizing mental remnants of war.

"As a result of that they find themselves often entangled with the criminal justice system," said State Representative James Smith, who represents Richland County.

A proposed Veterans Court Treatment Program would help keep vets facing low level, non- violent charges out of jail, by mandating at least a year of treatment to help with issues of PTSD, substance abuse and traumatic brain injuries.

"If you follow that treatment plan successfully, we will dismiss the criminal charges and hopefully get you in a place where you are gainfully employed in the community again," said Smith.

The program has already been in place in Richland and Kershaw counties for almost two years.

"Of the four people that came in, they were addicted, homeless and they obviously had a criminal charge," said 5th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.

The Veterans Court program now has four graduates and 19 veterans receiving treatment. But under the proposal, only honorably discharged veterans would be eligible for the program.

"What are we trying to solve?" asked attorney Thomas Eppink. "Are we trying to lower the crime rate and keep jails with open spaces. The other side is what would it matter what degree of discharge they got?"

The program, if enacted, would largely be funded by the Veterans Affairs Administration and with the help of volunteer judges and prosecutors lending their time.

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