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Staying on the right path

Judge Edward Marrigan presides over the Broward County Veterans Treatment Court

Judge Edward Marrigan presides over the Broward County Veterans Treatment Court

By Shane Suzuki
Monday, May 7, 2012

There is a difference between special treatment and the right treatment. For some Veterans struggling to transition to civilian life, a few bad choices can often lead to a confrontations with the police and criminal justice system.

Many times, these bad choices are related to drug and alcohol abuse, or even untreated mental health issues. Although millions of Veterans do receive care at their local VA medical center, some unfortunately don’t receive the care they need and end up abusing substances while attempting to self-medicate their issues away.

However, now South Florida Veterans have another option. Following the lead set by Miami-Dade County’s Drug Treatment Courts, Broward County has begun a Veterans Treatment Court for Veterans accused of low-level crimes who, with proper treatment and supervision, are able to get the help they need to make the successful leap into the civilian world.

“The Army has a creed – leave no one behind. That is what Veterans courts are all about, leaving no one behind,” said William Gunn, General Counsel for VA. “It takes those who may have begun to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, or are dealing with mental health issues, and provides them a forum where they can get the help they need, and deserve; from the VA and from our community partners.”

Despite more than 10 years of war, less than 1 percent of U.S. citizens are Veterans. In an all-volunteer service, these men and women join the military motivated and dedicated to serving their family, their neighbors and their country, said Gunn. This willingness to serve is contradicted by the image of a group that is suffering from depression or traumatic brain injury or PTSD.

This is why the Veterans Treatment Courts are so important. They provide another place to match Veterans to the services they have earned and need, he said.

“Together with our community partners and the criminal justice system, we can do great things for those who have worn the uniform of the United States military,” said Gunn.

In Broward County, the judge presiding over the Veterans Treatment Court is an Iraqi War Veteran himself, giving him a unique perspective on what it means to serve and what it means to be a Veteran.

“What I love about Veterans, is that there are no ‘General’ Veterans, or ‘Private’ Veterans,” said Judge (and Army Colonel) Edward Merrigan. “There are just Veterans – and I can think of no higher title.”

The mechanics of the Veterans Treatment Court are similar to the successful “Drug Court” model that is used in nearly 4,000 communities across the country. By offering treatment instead of automatic jail time, the goal is to help the underlying cause of the behavior and help them find a path back toward contributing to society.

“It is not special treatment for Veterans in that this is not a ‘’get out of jail free card”. Veterans who agree to participate in the Veterans Treatment Court must comply with all the court requirements and address their criminal behaviors,” said Dr. Giovanna Delgado, Miami VA Veterans Treatment Court liaison and psychologist. “There are no excuses being made for their criminal behaviors; however, they are being offered the opportunity to get treatment.  Going through the Veterans Treatment Court is often more demanding and strenuous than going through a regular court, especially for misdemeanor charges.”

 

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