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New court offers vets a recourse from prison time

Drug crimes frequently have their beginnings in very legal and necessary medical use. Warranted prescription medication can quickly and unintentionally become dependence and abuse, driving once law-abiding citizens to do unprecedented and out of character things in order to continue feeding their addictions.

One such group that often finds itself in this situation is the population of retired military veterans. Often relying on pain medication and anti-depressants to recover from their time in armed service, veterans may begin committing unplanned criminal acts in order to feed a runaway addiction that began as due treatment. Now, a special court system is being implemented in Connecticut and other states with an aim to better treat and correct offending veterans, keeping them out of prison and headed back toward social participation.

Veterans who have been charged with nonviolent drug crimes now have the opportunity to participate in veterans court. Like drug courts, the systems are designed to forego jail time in exchange for counseling, rehab meetings, and a participation in the Veterans Administration's treatment programs.

In weekly meetings which stress the connection between veterans in need of drug help and other veterans who can best understand their experience, the offenders work toward staying clean and finding a medical and personal path that will ensure they don't break the law again.

Based on an understanding that the substances themselves are often at the root of the crime, rather than a malicious or criminal mind, almost 100 veterans courts operate in 27 states, with more than 100 more planned for the future across the nation.

For veterans facing criminal drug charges without a violent past, Connecticut offers a treatment that is more rehabilitation than punishment, and can above all help bring an honored serviceman back from the dangers of substance abuse. Working with an attorney specializing in criminal defense law can help explore this and other legal options, bettering the likelihood of an outcome that doesn't include steep jail time

Source: CT Post "Special courts aim to keep vets clean, out of jail," Meg Kinnard, Nov. 25, 2012

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