Veteran’s Courts – A Second Way to Serve

Continually, Veteran’s Courts prove their positive impacts on those who participate and the communities they serve. These programs often struggle to pair participating veterans with mentors who served in the Global War on Terror. If you’re a veteran with recent experience, especially in combat, consider serving as a mentor in your local Veteran’s Court.

Generally, Veteran’s Courts are court supervised programs reserved for wartime veterans who commit a misdemeanor or felony offense and suffer from substance addiction and/or mental illness. These specialized courts serve troubled veterans by diverting them away from the traditional criminal justice system into a holistic treatment program which often pairs them with a mentor possessing similar combat experience and personality. Justice for Vets is the organization working to create a nationwide network of Veteran’s Courts. They provide a general overview of mentorship in a Veteran’s Court and most programs will have their own certification process to complete.

Veteran’s Courts offer mentors the opportunity to become a member of a tribe again while serving a veteran who needs their help. Sebastian Junger in his newest book “Tribe” illustrates the challenge wartime veterans face on page 124 where he writes “today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.” He continues with “it’s hard to know how to live for a country that regularly tears itself apart along every possible ethnic and demographic.” His book, an expansion of his 2015 interview with Vanity Fair, describes how service members enjoy the companionship of like-minded and motivated colleagues who share adversity, danger and triumph together. After exiting service into an American culture becoming increasingly disconnected and fragmented, we long for the closeness of the tribe we were once a member of – a contributing factor in PTSD according to Junger. Serving as a Veteran’s Court mentor puts us back in a tribe that understands our own struggles while working towards healing our brothers and sisters.

Veteran’s Courts address the need to recognize the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the veteran population. A 2005 study by the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy entitled “The Warrior Returns: Struggling to Address Criminal Behavior by Veterans with PTSD” states veterans charged with a crime often have great difficulty establishing their PTSD is a contributing factor in their behavior. Jurors, according to the study, are often unsympathetic towards veterans with PTSD who commit crimes due to not understanding the condition or fearing recurring violations. Portrayals of combat veterans in the media often reinforce this misconception. Dave Philipps of the New York Times wrote about this in his 2015 article entitled “Coming Home to Damaging Stereotypes” According to Philipps, portrayals of combat veterans as damaged and violence prone from their overseas service continue to mislead the public while masking the actual challenges and needs they have after service in the armed forces.

Many of us are already neck-deep in obligations to family and work – if you are, contact a Veteran’s Court near you and visit a day the court is in session. You’ll observe a multi-generation tribe genuinely caring for the well-being of troubled veterans and seeking to help them with their substance addiction and/or mental illness.

If you’re a veteran, especially of the GWOT and have the time, consider serving again as a mentor in a Veteran’s Court near you. Many of the participants are from our generation and need someone who they can relate to and will be by their side as they travel along a path to recovery.