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Don’t let veterans get lost in the shuffle

By Rory Lancman and Eric Ulrich

We need to do everything we can to honor our commitment to veterans when they return from defending us abroad, including making sure that they don’t get needlessly ensnared in our criminal justice system.

The patriotic men and women who serve our country overseas return home strengthened by their service. But some also return with psychological and emotional scars that can make it a challenge to adjust to civilian life. In extreme cases, they may find themselves in the criminal justice system.

Almost 30 percent of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans treated by the Veterans Administration have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. One out of every six suffers from a substance abuse problem. Vietnam Era veterans were afflicted at similar rates. We also know that from 14 percent to 20 percent of veterans have a traumatic brain injury, which can lead to agitation and combativeness. These factors exacerbate the difficulty of returning from war and lead some veterans to engage in criminal behavior, particularly drug-related offenses.

Last week, we introduced legislation to create a task force on veterans and the criminal justice system, which will ensure that the city takes every step it can to keep veterans out of our courts and jails. This task force will build upon the successes of local veterans treatment courts that afford veterans treatment instead of jail time. These courts – located in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and a part opening soon in Staten Island – connect veterans to VA and other benefits, a court mentor, and allow a guilty plea to be withdrawn after graduating from the program, affording our veterans the second chance they deserve.

The proposed task force would expand on this good work by collecting much-needed data about veterans involved in the city’s criminal justice system to assist with policy creation. The task force members would also make recommendations on how to get veterans quickly connected to treatment and services and how to better address the needs of veterans who have been arrested or incarcerated. They will tackle the issues facing veterans in Manhattan’s criminal justice system, which currently does not have a veterans treatment court.

Our veterans made immense sacrifices to defend American freedom. When they return home, we have to do everything we can to ease their transition back to civilian life. The work of the task force will make it easier for veterans to access treatment and will reduce their involvement in the criminal justice system – both crucial steps in fulfilling our responsibility to the men and women who gave years of their lives in service to our country.

Council Member Rory I. Lancman (24th District)

Chair, Committee on
Courts & Legal Services;

Council Member Eric Ulrich (32nd District)

Chair, Committee on Veterans

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