Justice speaks to Mason Rotary about veterans issues

The Rotary Club of Mason/Deerfield Township recently welcomed Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy who spoke to the local service club about the Ohio justice system and the growing number of specialty Veterans Treatment Courts.

In 2004 there were approximately 200,000 veterans in prisons and jails, representing about 10 percent of the total U.S. inmate population, according to a U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Kennedy noted reports showing that an estimated 1.5 million members of the U.S. Armed Services will have served in combat theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan, many with up to three or four deployments each. Up to 300,000 of those men and women find themselves returning home with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or major depression.

Kennedy stated that combat trauma can make it difficult for service members to readjust to civilian life, and many find themselves in the justice system as a result.

“Service members and their families who have given so much deserve our help. We have an obligation to help make them whole by connecting them to services available to them,” Kennedy said.

As a result, there has been a growing recognition within the justice system of the need for special Veterans Courts programs, she said. As of 2014, there were 220 Veterans Courts nationwide and 15 in Ohio as of 2016.

Veterans Courts put together a collaborative interdisciplinary team including the prosecutor, defense counsel, treatment provider, probation department, and Veterans Health and Benefit Administrations, Kennedy said.

“Treatment courts fundamentally understand that veterans are struggling with issues of substance abuse in self-medicating PTSD, TBI, and sexual trauma. (There is an) assessment process to establish a wrap-around treatment plan for the individual,” she said.

In addition Justice Kennedy spoke about two resources available to those with prior military service: the Ohio Military/Veterans Legal Assistance Project, which provides legal assistance to Ohio’s veterans and service members; and the Veterans Justice Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in which Veterans Justice Outreach specialists work to connect justice involved veterans and service members to benefits and treatment.

More information about these resources can be found by calling 614-387-9070.

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