Giving Compass' Take:

• Special veteran courts can be helpful for individuals who have served in the military that are charged with misdemeanor crimes due to post-traumatic stress disorder or drug and alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, there is only anecdotal evidence that these courts are useful, and there are not enough cases for the courts that do exist to expand. 

• What are some underlying reasons why specialized veteran courts see so few cases? 

• Read about how you can support veterans through the arts. 

While almost all of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. have established specialized courts for drug addicts and the mentally ill, veterans courts have languished because of a lack of financial support, reliance on volunteer judges and low usage. Only about 500 counties have opened vet courts since the first ones in 2008.

“In order for this to work, there needs to be a combination of several different things: primarily a judge who’s interested and a county attorney who’s open-minded,” said Jeffrey Paulson, the presiding judge who volunteers once a week to oversee the veterans treatment court in Woodbury, Iowa. “It’s got to be a labor of love.”

Because the courts are newer and there are so few, research on their efficacy is scarce. Anecdotally, among participants, the courts seem to work. But there’s been only a small handful of studies done over the past few years that have shown varied results with lowering recidivism among veterans who attend the courts compared to civilians.

“This veterans court model evolved like many of the other specialty courts, just out of [judges who] believed there was a need from what they saw in their courtrooms… and it spread without scientific evaluation,” says Julie Baldwin, associate director for research for justice programs at American University in Washington D.C. “To say one veterans treatment court works doesn’t mean they all work.”

There are almost 200,000 veterans incarcerated in American prisons and jails, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A third of those served in Iraq and Afghanistan, two operations that have resulted in what many refer to as “invisible wounds,” such as post traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injuries.

These cognitive disorders are known to increase drug usage and alcoholism, and tens of thousands of veterans or active members are incarcerated for drug possession or other misdemeanor crimes each year.

Read the full article about special courts for veterans by Joseph Darius Jaafari at The Marshall Project