Connecticut Seeks To Divert Veterans From Jail To Treatment

October 15, 2012

Written by Lisa Chedekel
When the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs recently advertised a job opening for a veterans’ service officer, 73 veterans applied, many of them younger men and women who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While they came from different backgrounds and zip codes, many had a common trait, Veterans’ Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz said: “They are wound tighter than a clock. They’ve deployed two or three times, had a successful military career, and now here they are home, struggling with the aftereffects, looking for jobs. . . We are seeing a large group of people who are really on the edge.”

Some of those people—more than 1,000 a year, according to estimates—have landed in Connecticut’s criminal justice system, often charged with lower-level crimes such as DUI, disorderly conduct or breach of peace.

Starting this month, Connecticut will follow a number of other states in beginning a program aimed at identifying veterans who are arrested for minor crimes and diverting them from jails to treatment. The state’s initiative has an unusual twist, allowing veterans to use the Accelerated Rehabilitation (AR) program twice, rather than just once. AR allows low-risk defendants to complete community treatment programs and avoid prosecution.

“It’s a really important change for a group of people who can benefit from services already in place,” said Margaret Middleton, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, which worked with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School to lobby for the veterans’ bill.

“Given the high incidence of PTSD and stress that our veterans are experiencing, we’re concerned that their first introduction to the mental health system should come before incarceration, where possible.”

The new diversion program coincides with a national study showing that Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have anger and irritability associated with combat trauma are more than twice as likely as other veterans to be arrested. The new study of a national sample of nearly 1,400 combat veterans found that while 9 percent overall reported being arrested since returning home from deployments, 23 percent of those with high irritability connected to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reported being arrested.

“Clinicians should be aware that veterans with PTSD who report very frequent symptoms of anger and irritability may be at increased risk of engaging in criminal behavior,” the study, published this month in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, concludes. The research team, led by the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill School of Medicine, also noted strong correlations between criminal behavior and factors not related to military service, such as a troubled family background or history of substance abuse.

The researchers recommended that the courts and VA outreach programs “routinely recommend interventions targeting symptoms of anger and irritability.”

In Connecticut, which has more than 245,000 veterans, 16,000 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new initiative will allow defendants to access supervised diversion programs, which offer mental health treatment, without requiring that they have a formal psychiatric diagnosis. As veterans are identified as eligible, court support officers will work to connect them with existing drug-treatment programs and other services offered through the VA, the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs and the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. That process has already started, with the diversion rules taking effect Oct. 1.

In 2008, Connecticut was one of six states awarded a federal grant to establish a jail diversion program for veterans with trauma-related symptoms that contributed to their criminal behavior. Pilot diversion programs have been established in the New London, Norwich, Danielson and Middletown court districts.

Schwartz said the new legislation comes after four years of failed attempts to establish statewide veterans’ diversion programs or special veterans’ courts, which are in place in other states. Veterans’ courts are typically separate dockets for defendants who are veterans and have legal issues related to PTSD, such as drug addiction or mental illness. There are now more than 95 such courts in 27 states, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP).

Schwartz said that while special courts are one approach, the new legislation means “every court in Connecticut is now empowered to be a veterans’ court.”

She said she has been concerned about reports of younger veterans engaging in “thrill-seeking behaviors,” such as reckless driving, vandalism and petty larceny. “We’re seeing a lot of the low-level stuff—substance abuse, DUIs, speeding, breach of peace. Some of these veterans don’t have any idea it’s connected to their (military) service.”

The majority of combat veterans are not diagnosed with PTSD, and most are never arrested. But for those who do have the disorder, past studies have shown a correlation with arrest rates. For example, research has shown that 50 percent of Vietnam combat veterans with PTSD have been arrested at least once.

The diversion initiative is expected to save the state $1.2 million in fiscal year 2013, and $2.5 million in the following year, largely because treatment is cheaper than incarceration, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis

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5 Responses to Connecticut Seeks To Divert Veterans From Jail To Treatment

  1. Citizen on October 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    I feel sorry for the Vets but crime is a crime. I read where Vets killed spouses and others and did really bad things. Jail is the place for them not this sympathy that Connecticut has for murders and criminals that are not Vets or may extend even to Vets now and of years back before this was decided. Vets are not the problem crime is and Connecticut has to start dealing with it instead of making everyone have a excuse for their bad behavior.

    • eric on August 6, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      I served in Afghanistan during my time in the military and as a cilvian. I have been through a lot over there and I can home because I was laid off and now I tried to go to court to reduce my alimony payment and after 7 month my ex got a lawyer that was paid by my fiance ex and got the judge to issue her the 1300 a month plus the all the back pay and I have to pay her 3000 in 45 days or I am going to jail. I am currently using my GI Bill and my unemployment just ran out. So the only money I have coming in is the avg amount of 900 a month from the GI Bill. So with less then 6 months left on my degree I going to be put in jail and not going to be able to Finnish this quarter. Then I will fail all my classes and my 4.0 avg will be gone. Then I will have to pay back that quarter to the VA because I would have failed all my classes. I felt such disrespect from the judge. He did not and would not take anything I brought in into account. I even brought a case law that was similar and that was not allowed to be used. He even started righting out his decision while I was still trying to plee my case.

  2. patricia potts on October 16, 2012 at 11:15 am

    It does seem that the program is limited to what they refer to as minor offenses and I am sure that murder is not considered minor. Maybe we simply need to remove these minor offenses from the list of misdemeanors.

  3. William Heino Sr. on October 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Those many problems faced in veteran’s court can be eliminated by fair and equal justice. A disabled veteran when returning home may face one of their toughest battles, facing a judge in divorce court trying to keep his or her VA disability compensation from being awarded as alimony. Something that every citizen wishes for, is that we do everything possible to help our veterans.
    The statute which disabled veterans’ rely on is 38 USC 5301. Nonassignability and exempt status of benefits. “Payments of benefits due or to become due under any law administered by the Secretary shall not be assignable except to the extent specifically authorized by law,.. a beneficiary shall be exempt from taxation, shall be exempt from the claim of creditors, and shall not be liable to attachment, levy or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process whatever, either before or after receipt by the beneficiary.
    Is the state violating the law? As read, 5301 it is quite clear. But when a disabled veteran appears before a judge and opposing attorneys, tried is every interpretation of law possible to win judgment and secure as alimony award a veteran’s disability compensation. What about child support? Should the veteran be responsible for that? Many veterans have argued 5301 exempts child support as well. The initial focus however, being on those veterans” not having child support as an issue, but this evolves later.
    Opposing lawyers, state court judges and the ex-spouse, their arguments rely on states rights, stare decisis, forum shopping, contract law, etc., and finally almost in all of these cases, the courts will rely on Rose v. Rose. A disabled triple amputee veteran, blind in one eye, requiring constant care, Charlie Wayne Rose, was sent to jail for failing to pay alimony and child support. Released after a short period when he agreed to relinquish his disability compensation for child support.
    However, in support of alimony only, having no child support issues, divorce courts, judges, lawyers, most always refer to Rose v. Rose, a child and alimony support case, because it’s available, convenient and will prevail. New Hampshire, Brownell v Brownell, “Lower courts have repeatedly implemented Rose, and an “overwhelming majority of courts” have held that veterans’ disability payments may be considered as income in awarding alimony.” Brownell was not a child support issue, but you did notice, the opposing lawyer managed to bring up Rose v Rose which was a child support issue. Brownell, of course lost a portion of his disability compensation as alimony.
    But this is not how the VA General Council John Thompson had interpreted the Rose case. 8/4/98 testimony of Congressional and Legislative Affairs statement of John Thompson, acting General counsel Department of Veterans Affairs before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Mr. Thompson speaking on the subject, disability compensation may be attached. In clarifying for the VA, its legal definition, stating, “The sole exception is that VA compensation received in lieu of waived military retired pay can be garnished in order to satisfy court-ordered child support and alimony obligations.”
    Mr. Thompson then states, “VA benefits, including even disability compensation received in lieu of retired pay, are also protected by Federal law from court-ordered divisions of property upon veterans’ divorces. However, The United States Supreme Court ruled in Rose v. Rose 481 U.S. 6219(1987) that state courts are not precluded from setting child support obligations at such levels that veterans would necessarily have to use some of their disability compensation to meet them.”
    Veterans Administration counsel Mr. Thompson’s explanation of “sole exception” is exactly what it is, which involves two (2) conditions… before “VA compensation received in lieu of waived military retired pay can be garnished in order to satisfy court-ordered child support and alimony obligations.” Two (2) conditions, child support and alimony. For those disabled veterans’ having no child support issues, this is not that “sole exception.” The courts in many cases do not make any exceptions .
    A defense in protecting a disabled veteran’s compensation is available, that of “due process”. As well as mentioning other claims, which as you read exposes the VA’s lack of oversight of the it’s rules and regulations and exposes the illegal state court rulings interfering with VA medical procedures regarding disability compensation which has led to “clear and substantial” major damage to federal interests.
    State court rulings awarding disability compensation are routinely processed by the VA, the governmental entity, in spite of 38 USC 5301, and VA General council’s precedential interpretations, VA regulations, laws on the books, and the many years of disabled veterans complaints.
    “Clear and substantial” major damage to federal interests occurs when state court judges make lasting decisions, partly based on Rose v. Rose, that seriously impact disabled veterans’ rated compensation and complicate Veterans Administration goals, and responsibilities. Upsetting, by overruling VA medical compensation decisions, which involve many hours of work that VA medical professionals have invested in the medical care, control, follow-up, and rehabilitation of disabled veterans. All this happens with VA complicity, when a state court, arbitrarily is allowed to take away a veterans VA disability compensation in third party alimony awards in violation of….. 38 USC 5301. Nonassignability and exempt status of benefits, and…. 38 USC 1155 Authority for schedule for rating disabilities. “However, in no event shall such a readjustment in the rating schedule cause a veteran’s disability rating in effect on the effective date of the readjustment to be reduced unless an improvement in the veteran’s disability is shown to have occurred.” 42 USC § 407 – Assignment of benefits, carries similar language.
    Reduction in disability compensation cannot be “reduced unless an improvement in the veteran’s disability is shown to have occurred.” When processing a reduction order, the VA would be violating the regulation 38 CFR 3.105 (e) when no medical evaluation has been ordered showing any physical improvement.
    To a veteran his total disability compensation payments is contingent upon what VA medical professionals determined the disabled veteran injuries should be compensated for. Forgetting for the moment, any rating system, to the veteran who loses any portion of his disability compensation payments by the courts, he has been unlawfully downgraded and now any disability rating is totally meaningless. What happens to a disabled veteran’s health, piece of mind, overall well being that the courts now have put in jeopardy, contributed to the never ending psychological and devastating consequences of what the courts had dealt, affecting thousands of disabled veterans? A “cause and effect” situation. Where is it written?
    Where is it written, the VA authority, when a state judge can arbitrarily overrule the VA, the VA medical doctors and other medical professionals’ that determine a veterans’ medical rating compensation? His future now without the compensation that was by law assured? Tax payer monies mandated by Congress purposely, as veterans service compensation for injuries received, life altering as they are, now being diverted purposely by state courts to healthy third parties in many cases, in a determined and engaging violation of the law.
    Which brings up “due process”. How is it, that state court judges can arbitrarily and capriciously award as alimony, with the mere wave of a hand waive away a portion of a veteran’s VA disability rated compensation, moneys in the form of disability compensation, the disability rights of a veteran, whose disability rating that maybe determined and factored in as critical? Judgment as if all disabilities are exactly the same? State court judges, are in reality, playing doctor, without medical license or knowledge .. a practice forbidden, providing penalties by law , and border on medical negligence. All without any input, or approval from the Veterans Administration, overstepping those whose authority it belongs, the dedicated VA medical professionals, in the practice of medicine, re-evaluation, and rehabilitation of the veteran. While at the same time violating federal law, 38 USC 5301, 42 USC 1408.
    The ACLU position, which makes the point, “Federal Court Hears Arguments In Case Defending Transgender People’s Right To Access Medical Treatment in Prison.” Feb 7, 2011. ACLU And Lambda Legal Argue That Doctors, Not Legislators, Should Determine Medical Treatment.
    “We hope this court will affirm the principle that is so important to all of us – doctors, and not legislators, should decide what medical treatment is critical for their patients.”
    State court judges may have adjudicated “due process” in income support distribution, divorce finalized and ended. However, this is only one part of two (2) separate “due process” issue proceedings. This is not just a one “due process” fits all situations, as state court judges may want you to think. When a veterans disability compensation is court ordered as part of any support distribution, before that “consideration” of any VA connected disability compensation, as part of any alimony award, there is a separate “due process” right, to fair adjudication of a veterans’ claim for disability compensation benefits. This has never been done. Entitlement to benefits is a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause. To allow what has been happening, was it the intent of Congress that state court judges substitute their judgment for the judgment of VA doctors and medical professionals? I don’t think so!
    As you can surmise from what you have read, this is an issue involving veterans’ from every state, and a mistaken belief by state courts that the solution to this problem can only be solved on a federal level. However, courts recognizing the “due process” and property rights of the disabled veteran, the result being the reality that disability compensation is then exempt in both alimony and child support, confirming Congress’ intent in the wording of 38 USC 5301
    PHILIP E. CUSHMAN, v. ERIC K. SHINSEKI, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, August 12, 2009.
    “It is well established that disability benefits are a protected property interest and may not be discontinued without due process of law. See Atkins v. Parker, 472 U.S. 115, 128 (1985); Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 332 (1976)”
    Just to be clear, many states do observe and respect federal law 38 USC 5301. Two cases not involving child support. California, Piner v. Piner, the judge had respected federal law and disallowed the use of a veteran’s disability compensation to be used as alimony. However, the judge gave him an ultimatum, forcing the veteran having to use his disability compensation in alimony support, by a set-off or assignment … or go to jail! To put it in prospective, the state court judge refused to violate federal law, but expects the veteran to violate that same law. New Hampshire, if Ronald Brownell, should refuse to hand over his disability compensation as ordered by the court, the judge would hold him in contempt of court, and can be ordered to jail. If, instead Brownell was forced to pay alimony reluctantly by the threat of jail time, he too, will violate federal law 38 USC 5301, “Nonasignability and exempt status of benefits.” This would end with “due process”.
    Did Charlie Wayne Rose, the severely disabled veteran, mentioned earlier, have this “due process”? I can find no mention of it in case documents available.
    In conclusion, our disabled men and women veterans, both returning and those having served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and past wars endure facing the stress of both the emotional and physical issues of rehabilitation, unemployment, future uncertainty, suicide, PTSD, self-worth leading to depression. For many, adding are years of facing a far greater emotionally charged setting, a divorce court battle. Financially and psychologically draining, fighting for the right to keep their earned VA disability compensation, against court room rulings that fail in their duty to advise and observe its duty to procedures of due process rights, and the court’s proper place in a medical decision over the rights due a disabled veteran.
    The Veterans’ Administration, as is their duty by law, has administratively respected state court judgments and processed illegal state court ordered judgments in awarding a veteran’s VA disability compensation as alimony child support. Under the circumstances of law as described, it is now up to state courts, state court judges, to uphold their sworn obedience and respect for the law. Now that you have this information, it is hoped disabled veterans’ get the respect that they sacrificed, fought for and deserve.
    A decision by the courts in recognizing veterans ‘due process” rights would forever settle once-and-for-all something that disabled veterans have been waiting for many years to confirm, 38 USC 5301 means what it says.
    September 3rd 2012 Jack Elliott Jr. Associated press
    The Mississippi court reversed a decision in a Lamar County divorce case, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that federal law does not permit state court divorce decrees to divide the disability benefits. The court said federal law pre-empts state law.

  4. William Heino Sr. on August 25, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    December 13, 2011—VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE, VETERANS UNITED FOR TRUTH, INC., v. ERIC K. SHINSEKI, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “VCS’s complaint sounds a plaintive cry for help, but it has been misdirected to us. As much as we may wish for expeditious improvement in the way the VA handles mental health care and service-related disability compensation, we cannot exceed our jurisdiction to accomplish it. ….As much as we as citizens are concerned with the plight of veterans seeking the prompt provision of the health care and benefits to which they are entitled by law, as judges we may not exceed our jurisdiction.”

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