Allen County Courts Extend Helping Hand To Military Veterans In Trouble With Law

By Jeff Neumeyer

November 12, 2013 Updated Nov 12, 2013 at 6:44 PM EDT

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (21ALIVE) --- Pushing recovery over punishment for military veterans in trouble with the law.

The Allen County court system breaks new ground in Indiana when it comes to dealing with offenders who've served our country.

More than a million servicemen and women are coming home after logging tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many are battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, along with other challenges related to active duty, which can put them in hot water with the criminal justice system.

Allen County court officials on Tuesday announced the creation of a special veterans treatment court, believed to be the first of its kind in the Hoosier state.

The idea is to channel veterans charged with crimes into rigorous accountability programs rather than have them serve time behind bars.

Those programs promote treatment for substance abuse and an assortment of mental health disorders that can be related to military service.

" We realize that the defendants come to us differently, and so we need to respond to them differently, especially the veterans who have given so much to us," said Judge Thomas Felts, with Allen Circuit Court.

" I'm excited about them having a specialized court, where they can maybe address their specialized needs and approaches to things from their military experience. It might be different than other folks in the courts," said Rita Wynn, a Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist.

Court systems across the country are becoming more sensitive to restoring veterans to good health.

One in five veterans now has symptoms of a mental disorder or cognitive impairment.

Experts are drawing a stronger link between substance abuse and combat- related mental illness.

Allen County court officials insist veterans charged with crimes won't get preferential treatment, but appropriate treatment, given the issues they have to deal with because of their sacrifice for our freedoms.

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