San Diego County is home to the largest concentration of military activity in the world with 137,000 active duty military personnel, 250,000 veteran residents and the largest discharged Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) veteran population in the nation with about 38,000 recent war veterans (9% of discharged recent warriors). Additionally, there are 110,000 OIF/OEF veterans currently calling the State of California home.
Many of these veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) or another mental illness. Their military-related mental health problems make them predisposed to criminal offenses. Without the proper attention and treatment these war veterans may continue to cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.
The most common charges for San Diego veterans suffering from PTS and other conditions related to their military service are domestic violence, DUI, assaults, and weapons possession. Most of these offenses were committed while the veteran-offender was under the influence of alcohol. Multiple DUI’s in rapid succession are noted when offenders do not receive treatment for service-related conditions after their first DUI.
Beginning if 2007, a group of veterans organized monthly meetings to review research, to examine other communities’ responses to the increasing numbers of justice-involved and homeless veterans, and to study research about the proper treatment for Post Traumatic Stress, Military Sexual Trauma, Traumatic Brain Injury, depression, substance abuse and other psychological injuries. This group soon organized itself into the Returning Veterans Legal Task Force (RVLTF) and developed strategies to address criminal behavior by recent combat veterans who suffer from these psychological injuries and find ways to encourage them to seek and complete treatment. Strategy sessions were held with criminal justice practitioners, veteran treatment providers, law enforcement, prosecutors, defense counsel, veterans organizational leaders, veteran consumers and interested community members.
In the summer of 2010, RVLTF pursued the development of a veterans treatment court in San Diego county and was awarded a grant from National Drug Court Institute to send a collaborative team to Buffalo, New York for a week of veterans treatment court team training. In order to expand and sustain their impact, RVLTF collaborators augmented their team and established the California Veterans Legal Task Force (CVLTF).
By early 2011, CVLTF was working with a designated judge and creating protocols within the San Diego Superior Court’s newly-designated Veterans Treatment Review Calendar Pilot Project. The first court session was held on Friday, February 4, 2011.
San Diego Superior Court's Veterans Treatment Review Calendar Pilot Program
The Veterans Treatment Review Calendar (VTRC) is San Diego's veterans treatment court model. Like other veterans treatment courts, VTRC is designed to address the unique needs of returning war veterans charged with certain criminal offenses; a collaborative court approach to the adjudication of veterans with military-related mental health problems. The VTRC promotes accountability through a combined program of judicial supervision, justice partner collaborative efforts and appropriate treatment and support. This collaborative model establishes a comprehensive program for the veteran-defendant that responds to his/her needs and promotes public safety.
The VTRC has earned praise for its successful veteran mentoring program where each participant in the VTRC is partnered with a mentor who is a combat vet, often having successfully treated his/her own PTS treatment. These mentors help guide the veteran through the 12-18 months of court monitoring, sharing experiences, listening and providing encouragement, and establishing goals and the ability to make good decisions.
Nearly all those veterans who have completed treatment, have gone on to re-establish independent lives, hold jobs and return to their place within their families and communities. While a few have stumbled and experienced minor relapses - common in any substance abuse recovery program - none of our graduates have been convicted of new crimes.
The San Diego VTRC program has already become a trusted model for treating justice-involved veterans in