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Veterans program holds promise

We believe the Denton County Veterans Treatment Court Program — which is finally starting to become active — could provide a lifeline for some veterans.

The program was approved by county commissioners in 2009. It is designed to help veterans find a way to deal with the abusive behavior, run-ins with the law and other fallout from the mental and physical trauma they suffered in combat.

The Denton County program is modeled after a successful program in Tarrant County that’s designed as a collaborative process between the court, defense counsel and prosecutors to treat combat-related mental illnesses that lead to a veteran’s criminal behavior.

Veterans who successfully complete the program could have his or her case dismissed by the district attorney’s office, First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck told us. The majority of crimes handled through the program will be drug- and alcohol-related, with some possible violence charges.

But no violators will get a free pass, according to County Criminal Court No. 3 Judge David Garcia, who will be hearing the cases. Garcia assured us that the program is very intense, and a participant will be closely monitored to keep him or her on track.

The program also requires victim consent, and only a handful of cases will be taken. A rigorous screening process will have to be completed. All combat veterans won’t qualify, and certain crimes — including violent offenses, crimes against children and sexual offenses — won’t be accepted.

District Attorney Paul Johnson’s office and the probation department will work together to screen cases and determine which veterans will respond to the program, officials told us. Veterans must be either suffering from a brain injury, mental illness or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of their military service, Beck said.

Once the veteran is screened and accepted into the program, he or she must attend weekly meetings in a courtroom, closed for confidentiality purposes. The program involves three stages, and all cases will be deferred depending on the length of time needed to graduate.

As long as the proper safeguards remain in place and are strictly enforced, we believe the program offers a potential way to reach and help some veterans who might be lost otherwise.

The Texas Legislature passed provisions for veterans court programs in 2009, and at least 10 counties across the state have established them.

Upon entering the program, veterans sign a waiver pleading guilty to their offense, and if a veteran drops out, he or she will have to follow the regular legal system guidelines.

So far, Denton County has one person who passed the initial screening process and has started the program. We hope that person finds success.

We also hope the program will show other veterans that we appreciate their service and want to help them in return.

Considering what they have done for us, it’s the least we can do.