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December 1, 2013
Our veterans need help

By Jan Pudlow
Senior Editor

More U.S. veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq have committed suicide than actually died from wounds in those wars.

About 460,000 veterans coming out of those wars have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and half of them are at risk of ending up in the criminal justice system.

Dade County Administrative Judge Steve Leifman delivered those facts to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on November 6, while thanking them for support that has created veterans courts in Florida.

Last year, the T. Patt Maney Veterans Treatment Intervention bill was passed, bringing treatment modeled after drug courts, pretrial diversion programs, and requirements for judges to consider veterans’ combat experience in making post-trial sentencing decisions to five counties: Alachua, Clay, Okaloosa, Pasco, and Pinellas.

The bill was named after Oklaloosa County Judge Maney, a U.S. Army Reserves brigadier general, who describes himself in military medical jargon as “OEF, IED, TBI”: Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, a victim of an Improvised Explosive Device who has suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, while trying to find potable water to help rebuild Afghanistan in 2005.

The whole experience, Judge Maney testified before a Senate committee in 2011, “left me sensitive and sympathetic to the plight of some 200,000 wounded warriors with traumatic brain injury, and their families and their communities and veterans in general. . . .

“I started noticing defendants whose bad behavior could be attributed to their combat experience. I saw a young former Marine with two Purple Hearts from Iraq, who was charged with writing a bad check and theft . . . . I met a soldier with five children who had received treatment for alcohol abuse, but not for underlying post-traumatic stress disorder. And he was charged with felony domestic violence,” Maney testified.

“These cases are real. These wounded warriors are in our communities. They are in our jails. Their families feel helpless. Our police deal with them daily. Our counties jail them.”

As of May 2013, Judge Leifman reported, there have been 336 admissions in eight veterans courts in Florida.

“We know that in our veterans courts —and we’re working hard to do this — that we want to make sure that the vets are segregated. They do much better when they are working together in these programs than in courts with other folks that are not veterans,” Leifman said.

There were 500,000 Vietnam vets who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and half of them ended up in jail, he said.

In the United States, he said, there are approximately 130,000 veterans who are homeless every night.

“Almost 45 percent of those homeless individuals, many with co-occurring disorders, have mental illnesses. Half of the 130,000 vets that are homeless in the United States live in four states, and Florida is one of them.

“And half of them end up in jail.”

As Judge Maney said, “It is my belief that combat veterans, whose bad behavior is the result of military experiences, should be afforded an opportunity to get treatment for their conditions and the benefit of a system that acknowledges their military combat service contributed to their behavior.

“I do not argue for a get-out-of-jail-free card for the veterans. But I do think we should create a system that takes into account their service and creates an opportunity to avoid recidivism and criminal records that would limit their future opportunities.”

[Revised: 04-16-2014]