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How to Help Vets in Trouble with the Law

How to Help Vets in Trouble with the Law

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For many years, it was a staple of movies and TV shows; the vet — almost always from Vietnam, but sometimes from the first Gulf War — who hadn't never been quite able to handle the return to their everyday lives after military service. Sometimes it would only take a slight nudge to send them over the edge into trouble with the law, like in the novel "First Blood" which was later turned into the first of many Rambo films. Sometimes the story featured a vet who seemed normal — they might even work in law enforcement — but could fall into a rage-filled anger at a moment's notice, like James Lee Burke's Cajun detective Dave Robicheaux.

The reality of the situation is that a certain percentage of vets do get into trouble with the law, often linked to experiences during their time in the military. And that number has increased as more veterans have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. (But not as many as you might think. A study by the Justice Department in 2000, showed that the incarceration of vets is about 60 percent of non-veterans. There is one difference among incarcerated veterans than non-veterans. White males comprise a much larger percentage of vets in jail than white males do in the other category.)

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So how to help those vets who do find themselves in legal trouble? One answer is might be what is happening in Buffalo. NPR's Libby Lewis reports on a special veterans court — working in conjunction with the Veterans Affairs Department — that tries to help veterans in trouble with the law. The court appoints mentors, often other veterans or active-duty soldiers, to help those in trouble get their lives back on track. The men in trouble with the law have to check in regularly with the court and prove that they are making the effort to get out of trouble in order to avoid jail time.

Do vet courts sound like a good idea? Is this something that you think should be used in the rest of the country?