By Peter Hirschfeld
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU
Published: November 11, 2009
For troubled veterans whose criminal offenses can be linked to the psychological scars of military deployments, a new Vermont court could replace probation and prison terms with counseling and therapy.
As Vermont prepares for the largest deployment of National Guard soldiers since World War II, mental health professionals and justice officials say they anticipate a surge in the number of veterans entering the state's criminal justice system.
Proponents of the fledgling court say the program, funded in part by a $2.1 million federal grant, will offer a more compassionate, and ultimately more effective, method of dealing with veterans suffering from service-connected mental health conditions.
"It really shows that despite our small size, Vermont many times is on the cutting edge of providing services to veterans," said Clayton Clark, head of the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs. "We think it's a great way to ensure that veterans having troubles get cared for in the best way possible."
The Jail Diversion, Trauma Recovery program will operate under the auspices of a mental health court already in existence in Chittenden County. The $2.1 million grant, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will expand staff there and place a special focus on veterans, though any Vermonter with a mental health condition will be potentially eligible for the specialized court.
Offenders could avoid traditional criminal sanctions by agreeing to participate in court-ordered treatment plans.
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