A Growing Trend: Special Courts for War Vets

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The nation tends to calculate the cost of wars in blood and treasure — how many of our troops have been killed and wounded, and how much did the Treasury and taxpayer have to spend — or borrow — to prosecute the campaign. One thing a decade of fighting reveals clearly are the hidden costs of combat that only become evident as they become too big to ignore: stress, family problems, scared kids, PTSD, and suicide among them.

A U.S. soldier in Iraq/DoD photo

The military tries to deal with all of those, but some fall outside its scope. Take, for example, crimes committed by war vets out in the civilian world. Some are simply criminals, to be sure, but some have been crimped in that direction by their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. At least that’s what the experts tell us. So how should these alleged wrongdoers be treated? The Buffalo News this morning has an interesting take on how the justice system is replacing jail time with treatment:

Seven months ago, Britten M. Walker was a deeply troubled Army veteran facing big trouble.

The Iraq and Afghanistan combat vet was sitting in jail and looking at the strong possibility of a federal prison term after his arrest for allegedly making a series of bizarre death and bomb threats.

Today, he has a chance at a much brighter future.

His case was recently transferred from Buffalo’s federal court — where Walker could have faced a prison term of up to 10 years—to the Erie County Veterans Treatment Court at Buffalo’s City Court.

And if Walker stays out of trouble and successfully completes counseling and treatment programs mandated by Veterans Court over the next 18 months, he won’t spend any time in prison.

Walker’s family is ecstatic, according to his Buffalo lawyer, Tracy Hayes of the Federal Public Defender’s Office.

According to Hayes and court officials, Walker’s case is the first federal criminal case in the nation ever to be transferred to a veterans court.

“It is the first, and we’re very pleased with the result,” Hayes said in an interview. “From the beginning, our position is that this is a young man who needs counseling for [post-traumatic stress disorder] and other issues, not prison time.”

Just another one of those unexpected bills that we rarely tabulate before the balloon goes up.