Judge John Schrader: Fayette Court program supports troubled veterans

Over 20,000 veterans currently live in Lexington and substantial growth in this population is anticipated over the next 18 months as troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan.

At least 20 percent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are known to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and over 80 percent of the veterans injured have sustained traumatic brain injuries not detectable by casual observation.

The impact of these conditions may be debilitating with long-term complications including depression, anger, anxiety, memory loss, flashbacks and sleep disturbance. The emotional and psychological damage sustained by these veterans is fully understandable given their experiences: engaging in personal hand-to-hand combat, killing aggressors or innocent non-combatants, being injured by a sniper or an IED, seeing friends injured or killed in battle and enduring the wear and tear which results from carrying 75 pounds of gear several hours per day.

Back home, veterans are challenged to find an outlet for the hyper-vigilance to which they became accustomed while in combat. Many unfortunately resort to self-medication of their emotional and physical injuries by excessive drinking and abuse of illegal drugs. With diminished impulse control and substance abuse concerns, routine incidents such as road rage, being startled by fireworks or even a child's playful squeal can lead a veteran suffering from PTSD to criminal conduct which results in an arrest.

While these veterans must be held accountable for their behavior, we know that, without appropriate treatment, the problems which caused the criminal activity will continue to haunt them and their families long after they are released from jail or prison.

Unless we provide appropriate help, the veteran may well engage in the same (or even more serious) criminal behavior, putting his or her family and other innocent persons at risk of physical and emotional injury or death.

Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton approved my request to preside as a volunteer over the Fayette County Veterans Treatment Court, and it began its service to veterans as a pilot project on Oct. 4.

Veterans Treatment Court utilizes the collaborative services of the Veterans Administration, The Vet Center, Lexington police and sheriff departments, the Fayette County attorney, the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, Fayette County Drug Court and the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts.

Its requirements and services are tailored for each veteran and will include frequent drug screening, curfew monitor, treatment for mental health and substance abuse, domestic-violence-offender treatment, family support, job training and placement, and assistance in obtaining appropriate housing.

A critical feature includes the ongoing support of a volunteer veteran-mentor (a "Battle Buddy") who will support the participant.

The program will not serve those charged with violent felony offenses, sexual abuse, trafficking in heroin and other crimes which the team deems to be inappropriate for treatment. In the pilot program, only those veterans who have received an honorable or general discharge are eligible, but the grant request to be submitted in early 2014 would also allow service to veterans dishonorably discharged.

The program requires approximately 18 months of intensive work by the veteran, including classes with daily homework assignments, reporting requirements, curfew, therapy and treatment, and weekly court appearances to monitor compliance. There are progressive sanctions for violations of the program requirements which include various terms of incarceration.

The community is invited to support our country's courageous veterans and the ongoing work of Veterans Treatment Court. For further information: johnschrader@kycourts.net.