LIMA — Serving as the keynote speaker at Friday’s Allen County Republican Party Lunch, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy highlighted the need to help American veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
With more veterans returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, courts are seeing increased numbers of former service members in the court system, a trend which must be addressed, she said.
“It is estimated that 1.5 million men and women will have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and approximately 300,000 will be dealing with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression and substance abuse,” she said. “What will happen is that as they self-medicate, they’ll have contact with the criminal justice system.”
A solution to this, Kennedy said, is veterans court, a court model similar to drug courts where veterans charged with offenses stemming from service-related injuries or disorders have an avenue to treatment and not simply incarceration. This model was started in 2008 in Buffalo, New York, and currently, 17 Ohio courts are certified for veterans courts, with three more in the process.
“When they took this step back in Buffalo and the judge observed the high number of returning veterans who were coming into contact with his court in a criminal context, he took a step back and said, ‘What can I do for this population who served America? Should we leave them behind?’” she said. “The answer, given resoundingly across the country, is no. In coming home, we have an obligation to them to help them become whole.”
The closest veterans courts to this area are in Marion and Toledo, according to the Ohio Department of Veterans Services, and becoming certified is a lengthy process, Kennedy said. However, the process can be well worth it, according to Kennedy, and a recent study in Mansfield has shown that this model is making a difference.
“According to the study, 100 percent of the veterans they followed had a diagnosis of PTSD,” she said. “One year after treatment began, they actually could say that 25 percent remained diagnosable of PTSD, and those individuals are not coming back to the courts. Only 10 percent in that year following actually recidivated. To me, that’s an impressive number.”
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.