GRAYSON COUNTY, TX -- According to a Bureau of Justice survey more than 200,000 veterans are behind bars, but now local veterans are fighting to reduce that number and made their case to Grayson County Commissioners Tuesday.
Back in 2009 Texas passed a bill which allows the creation of Veterans' Courts in the state. The program identifies servicemen who suffer from a brain injury or mental disorder and then helps them seek treatment while still holding them accountable. However, it is up to each county to create its own or regional court.
Vietnam Veteran Bob Hillerby suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A common illness servicemen develop after a traumatic event -- that may lead to getting in trouble with the law.
"Their behavior is not a problem. Their behavior is a symptom of what's really wrong, and if we don't address that symptom we're not going to cure the other thing," Hillerby said.
Justice Outreach Specialist Melissa Kale says she has seen an increase in incarcerated vets. She says the nearest Veteran's Courts in Dallas and Tarrant County, together, see about 50 cases a month.
"The only thing we can see from the current trends is that this problem is going to get worse if we don't do something to address it," Kale said.
Addressing the issue locally is what Vietnam Veteran Jerry Wrenn has been working on for the past year. He says the proposed Veterans' Treatment Court is not a "get out of jail free card". It would simply help mentally impaired veterans straighten up their lives.
"You're judge becomes your commanding officer, your court becomes a staff, your peer to peer becomes your fire team, and you become the solider and you're given a mission and that's cleaning yourself up," Wrenn said.
Wrenn says not just anyone could use the court program.
"You have to be disabled or diagnosed with PTSD. It has to be combat. You can't just go in there and claim it. They're going to check your records. They're going to check you out," Wrenn said.
Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum says he believes a Veterans' Court would do a lot of good. That is why Tuesday County Commissioners gave him the thumbs up to start looking into a potential program here.
"I think at the local level we got to get involved. We got to push it forward and certainly as a veteran this is very near and dear to my heart, and I'm going to do everything I can to push this forward," Judge Bynum said.
Wrenn says if a serviceman completes the Veterans' Court program then their case could be dismissed and some charges could even be expunged.
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