Going into this Fourth of July weekend, we must recognize that many who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom may not feel the same sense of independence.
A growing number of veterans in our community suffer from substance use disorders, mental health conditions and trauma. These issues can be exacerbated by the loss of structure and camaraderie found in the military and, as a result, many veterans find themselves in the criminal justice system for the first time.
The Metropolitan Court established one of the nation’s first Veterans Treatment Courts in 2016 to offer critical mental health and substance use treatment options in its effort to rehabilitate misdemeanor offenders. The goal of Community Veterans Court is to return veterans and service members to the community as healthy, law-abiding individuals.
The Community Veterans Court provides treatment, accountability and mentoring and helps connect justice-involved veterans with the support they deserve and the benefits they’ve earned.
I have had the privilege of presiding over the Community Veterans Court for the past year, where I have witnessed the life-changing journey of veterans who have completed the program. The heartfelt pride and desire of wanting to do right for their family, for their community and for their country could be undeniably felt each time they appeared before me.
Those in the program report to court for status hearings one or more times per month depending on need, undergo frequent and random drug and alcohol testing, meet with an assigned probation officer, engage in treatment, and satisfy other conditions of the court.
Treatment services for any substance use disorder or mental illness, such as PTSD, are obtained primarily from the Veterans Affairs Hospital or First Nations Community HealthSource.
The program works because of the structure it provides and because of the support shouldered by all involved. With the program’s lead, our participants often become one another’s strongest supporters as they work through different battles after returning to civilian life.
Each participant is paired with a volunteer mentor who is also a veteran and is there as someone the participant can reach out to at any time for support, or just to talk. This camaraderie is a vital component in each participant’s recovery. Many who have graduated from the program come back to volunteer as a mentor with the treatment court.
Much of the program’s success can be credited to the multidisciplinary team of probation officers, mental health and substance abuse treatment providers, law enforcement officers, assistant district attorneys, public defenders and Veterans Affairs coordinators who work behind it. The team uses a collaborative approach to craft a treatment plan specific to each veteran participant to ensure all needs are being met.
Judge David A. Murphy is a judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the judge individually and not those of the court.