The following was written as an opinion article and may not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Richmond Hill 411.
My name is Britnee Kinard, and I am the President and Founder of SD Gunner Fund which was established in June 2014 to assist wounded veterans and exceptional children with the financial expense of obtaining and maintaining much needed service animals. In 2005 my husband, Hamilton, was hit by an IED while serving in Iraq and suffered many traumatic injuries including Complete Nerve Damage, Cortical Blindness, and Severe Traumatic Brain Injury. I am a Lincoln Award Winner and am often seen as one of the most influential disabled veteran caregivers in the coastal southeastern United States. I have been recognized by Georgia Senator’s Hill of the 4th, Hill of the 6th, Dugan of the 30th and Harbison of the 15th in Georgia Senate Resolution 475 for my work with veterans and caregivers. I have also been recognized by Georgia Congressman Rick Allen, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs Johnny Isakson for my work with Veterans.
I didn’t start this article to brag about myself but to merely give readers an insight to who is writing this article. Although I am usually known as the “dog lady” or “the big white dogs mom,” I am also a very big advocate for veterans and children when it comes to policies and regulations.
Most veterans are strengthened by their military service, but the combat experience has unfortunately left a growing number of veterans with issues such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance use issue. Research continues to draw a link between substance use and combat-related mental illness. Left untreated, mental health disorders common among veterans can directly lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.
Per the 2017 US Census, Bryan County, Georgia has an estimated 3,412 veterans. Of those veterans, 2,717 are First and Second Gulf War Veterans.
They fought for our country. They fought for our freedoms. During their life, for nothing in return, they have been willing to give up their life for their country…your country…my country. I’m not suggesting that we give them a break. Most Veterans are not looking for a break. I am asking that we have mercy and give them the help they deserve. They have cashed a check that far too many us would bounce.
So how can we as a community, come together and help our military veterans? It’s really an easy decision. It’s called Veterans Court.
What is Veterans Court?
Veterans Court is a post-plea program crafted to recognize the relationship between those who have committed certain felony criminal offenses due to mental or psychological disorders they acquired as a result of service to our county. For example, a veteran may suffer from PTSD due to combat experiences and then, as a result of the PTSD, often yells loudly in public while having a flashback, violating the law & disturbing the peace.
How does it work?
The goal of the program is to afford residential or outpatient treatment to such veterans suffering from documented service-related disorders instead of prison and, if the veteran successfully completes the rehabilitative program, to allow the veteran to withdraw his plea and the judge to dismiss the case in the interests of justice. More importantly, it is a “life line” of sorts for someone who may otherwise lose his or her VA benefits if he or she actually serves more than sixty or ninety days in prison (often through county jail).
The veterans treatment court model requires regular court appearances, as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, and frequent and random testing for drug and alcohol use. Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment, given their past experiences in the Armed Forces. However, a few will struggle, and it is exactly those veterans who need a veterans treatment court program the most. Without this structure, these veterans will reoffend and remain in the criminal justice system. The veterans treatment court is able to ensure they meet their obligations to themselves, the court, and their community. Also keep in mind that the expenses of the program are mostly paid for through the veteran’s veterans benefits. The program lasts a minimum of eighteen months, but can stretch out to five years.
- Reduce criminal recidivism.
- Facilitate participant mental wellness and sobriety.
- Increase compliance with treatment and other court ordered conditions.
- Improve access to VA benefits and services.
- Improve quality of life and stability.
- Maintain Public Safety
- VA Core Outpatient
- VA Intensive Day Treatment
- Outpatient – Local Provider
- Short-Term Residential at VA Substance Abuse Treatment Program (28 days)
- Longer-Term Residential – Local Provider (6-18 months, as available)
AS WELL AS
- Domestic Violence Groups
- Anger/Conflict Resolution Groups
- Veterans Specialty Groups
Participants are encouraged to establish and maintain a self-support group to assist them after they have completed treatment.
Veterans treatment courts allow jurisdictions to serve a large segment of the justice-involved veteran population as opposed to business as usual: having all veterans appear before random judges who may or may not have an understanding of their unique experiences and issues. Because a veterans treatment court judge handles numerous veterans’ cases and is supported by a strong, interdisciplinary team, he or she is in a much better position to exercise discretion and effectively respond than a judge who only occasionally hears a case involving a veteran defendant. A veterans treatment court judge better understands the issues that a veteran may be struggling with, such as substance addiction, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma. A veterans treatment court judge is also more familiar with the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Administration, State Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans service organizations, and volunteer veteran mentors and how they can all assist veteran defendants.
Veterans treatment courts act as a “one-stop shop,” linking veterans with the programs, benefits, and services they have earned. For example, the Veterans Health Administration’s Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist is present during the court docket with a laptop computer able to access confidential medical records, make treatment appointments, and communicate this information to the court. The Veterans Benefit Administration may provide a representative to ensure that veterans receive disability compensation, and education and training benefits. Veterans service organizations and State Departments of Veterans Affairs assist veterans with additional local and state resources, while volunteer veteran mentors provide morale and motivational support. These team members are not employed by the criminal justice system and normally would not be present at the courthouse. Consolidating justice-involved veterans into a single docket permits these individuals to actively support those in need of their help.
As citizens in this community, we owe it to ourselves to help our veterans as they struggle with readjustment into society. I encourage our officials to reach out to me, SD Gunner Fund or Fausto Tenen with the VFW and get the resources they need to form a Veterans Court. We are here to help!!
President / Founder of SD Gunner Fund