COMMENTARY: Delaware Veterans Treatment Court addresses injustice

Veterans Day has passed with many of us pausing to pay tribute to the men and women who have and still bear the burden of safeguarding our freedom. Our gratitude is extended to all veterans, even those who struggle to cope on the homefront.

This nation now has more than 2.1 million veterans of our numerous wars who have made the sacrifice of serving in our armed forces. Most veterans return home strengthened by their service and become vital members of the community. Quite often they return to their civilian vocations in one piece and do not suffer from psychological stressors effecting their reengagement in civilian life.

In fact, research shows veterans are more likely than non-veterans to be civically engaged. Servicemen and women are more likely to vote, volunteer, give to charity, and work with neighbors to fix problems in the community. The skills learned in the military like working as a team, maintaining discipline, professionalism and working for the common good are vital skills the nation needs in its citizens.

William Witham Jr.

Unfortunately, roughly 10 percent of our veterans are incarcerated in our prison system. Their crimes vary from the serious to relatively minor. Those veterans that experience combat in their service have a high degree of mental health issues such as PTSD as well as substance abuse problems. Unfortunately, about 40 percent of the homeless population on any given night are veterans.

In 2007, the Department of Correction reported an incarcerated population of approximately 7,000 inmates. Approximately 30,000 offenders are released into our communities each year. It would appear that 3,000 of the offenders would have military experience if these numbers hold up in 2017.

As a nation we have a obligation to support our veterans who, as volunteers, put themselves on the line to protect, serve and defend our country and ensure our freedom every day.

In 2011, Delaware founded the first statewide Veterans Treatment Court to address the terrible injustice in failing to provide for those servicemen and women who, having served their county, are arrested for crimes for which their military service may have contributed. These veterans have substance abuse, addiction and mental health issues which played a part in breaking up families as well as growing our homeless and jobless population.

It has been reported that one out of four homeless persons is a veteran. We believe that we must have a program in place other then the traditional criminal justice system.

We operate in all three Delaware counties. The Veterans Treatment Court is designed as a problem-solving or therapeutic court with an emphasis on treatment. Those veterans charged with new offenses and those who have been previously convicted and sentenced to probation have the opportunity to qualify for our court.

Those who have a non-violent felony or in some cases a domestic case may qualify for a diversion of the case to the Veterans Treatment Court. A treatment plan is developed and must be complied with in order to graduate and resolve the case. Mentors are appointed, and act as a friend. The veteran will receive all veteran benefits available due to the person.

The veteran attends regularly scheduled court conferences to monitor his or her progress. There is strict compliance or sanctions are ordered. The length of time in the evidence-based program varies, depending on the veteran’s crimes, compliance with probation and adherence to treatment plans.Our veterans are expected to live in a stable environment and be gainfully employed if appropriate and in compliance with treatment. We assist in providing housing and employment counselors at the federal or state level as well as a unique federal/state treatment program.

Our commitment is to successfully rehabilitate veterans with substance abuse and mental health issues charged with crimes by diverting them from the traditional criminal justice system as well as provide the tools needed to lead productive and law abiding lives.

It is encouraged that if you have an interest in our program to come out and see how this court operates. In Kent County we are generally in operation twice a month on the first and third Fridays.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Delaware Superior Court Resident Judge William L. Witham, Jr. is a Veterans Treatment Court Judge.

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