Nebraskans owe a hefty debt to those who have sacrificed their time and their talents — and sometimes much more — in going to war.
So when some returning veterans end up in trouble with the law as they wrestle with the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression or other issues, it's time to lend a helping hand and not turn away.
Nebraska could do that by testing the idea of a special veterans court.
In such a court, veterans selected by prosecutors and defense attorneys would take part in court-ordered programs such as intensely supervised treatment, work requirements and frequent drug tests. The court also would work to address any mental health issues that might have contributed to a veteran's criminal activity.
Legislative Bill 915, offered by State Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, would create a veterans court as a pilot program in Douglas County. The models are other problem solving courts with a good track record in this state.
Currently, 24 special courts serve about 1,200 Nebraskans a year, most dealing with criminal behavior linked to drug and alcohol addiction. These are 1,200 people who would otherwise be in jail or prison.
A 2011 report found the courts effective for participants: Only 5 percent committed new crimes the first year they were released. The state's average recidivism rate is 26.5 percent. The courts are effective for taxpayers, too, costing $12 to $42 a day per person, compared with $92 a day to house them in state prison.
Those returning from war zones can struggle to identify with civilians and often respond better in treatment when surrounded or mentored by fellow veterans.
An attorney speaking on behalf of the Nebraska State Bar Association explained it well in testimony to state senators. Such courts, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Dillow told lawmakers, "seek to tap into that part of a veteran that speaks to duty, honor, discipline and the unyielding sense of accountability that veterans share with each other."
These veterans answered the call to defend us. Creating a veterans court program is a smart way we can help them.
Creating a veterans court program is a smart way we can help them.