Pubdate: Tue, 01 Mar 2011
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2011 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Note: Rarely prints LTEs received from outside its circulation area
Author: Schuyler Kropf
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Charleston County is expanding its drug rehabilitation efforts to 
include a special court for veterans.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson on Monday announced the 
creation of a Veterans Treatment Court, where vets who end up in the 
criminal justice system can receive targeted attention to move them 
away from the addiction that got them arrested.

The strategy, which has been used in other parts of the country, is 
being done in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs and 
Crisis Ministries.

"I think we're already seeing it," Wilson said of veterans returning 
from war zones and falling into dependency. She quoted national 
statistics indicating as many as 20 percent of those who served in 
Iraq and Afghanistan are coming back with post-traumatic stress 
disorder and other forms of depression.

Veterans "need access to veteran-specific resources in order to close 
the revolving door of the criminal justice system," Wilson said.

Charleston already has an adult Drug Court where addicts who want to 
get off drugs follow a rigorous treatment of monitoring, restitution 
and employment requirements. The thrust is to address underlying 
causes of their conduct, instead of resorting to incarceration. The 
new veterans court takes those steps further, including using mentors 
with military experience to help out.

While several factors go into determining who is eligible for the new 
court, Wilson said a key decider is that the veteran's case does not 
include a violent offense.

"The main thing is the defendant has to want to battle his 
addiction," she added.

How many vets will go through the program is still an unknown. Ninth 
Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington said his office annually 
receives several hundred cases involving veterans.

One of the contributors to the local effort is third-year Charleston 
School of Law student Justice L. Perkins, 32, of Augusta.

He conducted much of the research into treatment options for veterans 
during an externship he did with the Homeless Justice Project at 
Crisis Ministries.

"It just seemed a great way to help community and to help veterans," 
said Perkins, also a staff sergeant in the S.C. National Guard.

Nationally, the first Veterans Treatment Court was established in 
2008. Today there are more than 40 such courts throughout the U.S., 
the VA said.

Another advantage of having a special court for vets, Wilson said, is 
that it frees up space for civilians for the already up-and-running 
county Drug Court.
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