The six-month pilot program, the only one of its kind in Texas and 10th in the nation, will initially enroll 20 veterans who have committed a misdemeanor or low-level felony indirectly connected to their military service.
State District Judge Marc Carter, who is himself a veteran, will oversee the program in his court. He says most of the cases involve drug and alcohol abuse and officials realize military service could be a contributing factor.
"The experience of war often results on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and brain injury. When these injuries go untreated, the result is often suicide, depression, drug and alcohol addiction and criminal behavior. It may be years before a person realizes or admits that his life is spiraling downhill because of the trauma he experienced in military service."
The program provides each participant with a court-ordered treatment plan, court liaison, psychiatrist and access to treatment at the Michael DeBakey Veteran's Affairs Medical Center.
"They will participate in a six-month treatment program at the VA hospital. And then they will participate in an after-care treatment program. The Veterans' Court is not only designed to treat their addictions and illnesses, it is also designed to find them homes and jobs."
Harris County has the second largest number of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom vets in the nation, just behind Los Angeles.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Litner's son just completed Green Beret training, after serving two tours in Iraq. Litner says the DA's office is eager to work with the Veterans' Court.
"When you have a son that's over there fighting in places like Iraq, and he goes to school, becomes a Green Beret and you know he's going to end up going right back again to either Iraq or Afghanistan. It makes you look at programs like this and see that we have got to recognize the service of those and the fact that — no matter whether they're my son, my daughter, your son, your daughter, whoever's son or daughter they are — they might also end up with some special need because of their special service."
About 300 veterans are booked into jail in Harris County every month. The Veterans' Court will launch on December 9th.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.