Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2010
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Communications Director
Phone: 512-463-0385

HELPING WARRIORS THROUGH VETERANS' COURTS

Transition into civilian life for a veteran coming home from the battlefield can sometimes be problematic, especially for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD, as the disorder is called, can cause an otherwise law-abiding citizen to commit crime and be plunged into an unfamiliar legal system.

One soldier returned in 2007 to Harris County after an Iraqi combat tour suffering from PTSD with no prior criminal record. He was apprehended for evading arrest after a small auto accident in which he panicked upon seeing the police lights.

A report by the RAND Corporation estimates that 300,000 American soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq (nearly 20 percent of the troops deployed in those operations) now suffer from PTSD, major depression, or problems associated with traumatic brain injury. However, only 53 percent of those affected have sought treatment.

Getting veterans to seek mental health care has been challenging, and programs to offer legal representation to them were almost non-existent until recently.

Texas now has a fledgling program created from a bill I supported last session authorizing counties to establish veterans' courts that can provide our warriors with combat-related mental illness an avenue to make retribution.

Through this program, they can also receive the mental health services they need rather than just be cast into the criminal justice system.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reports that more than 4,500, or six percent of people who entered a state correctional facility in 2008, claimed military service.

There are approximately 1.7 million veterans in Texas. Service members of the U.S. Armed Forces returning from serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom will increase the number of our veterans.

Illinois, Nevada and Texas are among the states that have recently enacted legislation authorizing the creation of veterans' courts. Texas' Senate Bill 1940 authored by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (San Antonio) may be useful as a model for other states because it authorizes counties to create such courts, provides guidelines that are flexible enough to allow for local innovation and was passed without a fiscal note.

Grants are available through the Texas Veterans Commission Fund for Veterans' Assistance that was created during the 80th Texas Legislature in 2007 to provide aid to veterans and their families in need. The fund is supported by donations from individuals and organization.

To provide a secure revenue stream for the fund, the Texas Legislature also established a veterans' lottery scratch-off game during the 81st Legislative Session.

The Office of the Governor, Criminal Justice Division, and the Texas Veterans Commission have partnered together to support the development of veterans' courts.

Executive Director of the Texas Veterans Commission, Mr. Jim Nier, says that "TVC supports veterans' courts and the agency is currently discussing procedures to assist in funding veterans' courts with the Office of the Governor and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice."

The next open solicitation for these programs will be early 2011. Information on funding opportunities can be found on the home page of the online e-grants system under Calendar by logging onto https://cjdonline.governor.state.tx.us/default.aspx, by calling 512-463-6564 or by emailing grants@tvc.state.tx.us.

Since the legislation became effective Sept. 1 of last year, Bexar, Dallas, Denton El Paso, Fannin, Harris, Hidalgo, Orange, Tarrant and Travis counties have responded, and some have taken steps to establish veterans' courts.

Typically, only misdemeanors and, in some cases, non-violent felonies can be tried and not all veterans are eligible. These courts don't clear offenders of wrongdoing simply because they're veterans. They are held accountable through a strict schedule of court appearances and treatment appointments. If necessary, a judge can impose sanctions that may include jail time, and some courts utilize probation officers to monitor an offender.

Between now and next session in 2011, a legislative committee in the House and another in the Senate will be monitoring the implementation of the veterans' court legislation.

One critical component of this program is ensuring that every victim obtains justice in the process.

Many jurisdictions would probably like to implement the legislation, but additional funding is needed to provide treatment and rehabilitative services to our veterans.

As one American grateful to these courageous men and women, I will work alongside my colleagues next session to ensure we do everything possible to advance veterans' courts.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.

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