NAVAJO COUNTY — The Navajo County Veterans Court is making significant strides in the success of its new intervention program for local servicemen and servicewomen.
Veterans Court serves as a rehabilitation program for military veterans who encounter drug- or alcohol-related law enforcement troubles after returning home from service, often due to the effects of military post-traumatic stress disorder.
The program’s goal is to assist participants to get their lives back on track and reduce the burden of treatment on their families and the criminal justice system.
With six committed enrollees since its 2015 inception, the program is seeing a high success rate, notes Scott Keil, VFW Post 9907 Jr. vice commander. The court’s second graduate completed the course Wednesday and a third is set to do so next month. Only one entrant has dropped out of the course so far, Keil says.
Keil observes that, without such a structured provision in place, local veterans in crisis are less likely to voluntarily enroll themselves in the state’s VA Healthcare network hospital treatment.
“For instance, there’s one individual in Pinetop who, when I first saw him some months back, was very cocky, kind of arrogant. I saw him this week and, while he’s still got a little bit of that in him, he’s practically done a 180-degree turnaround. He’s responding well to the structure that he must follow to stay in the vet’s court and graduate. He’s doing the right thing. I’m (happily) surprised.”
Arrests and other infractions can mount quickly in lieu of proper medical and psychiatric treatment.
According to research conducted by the National Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Study, commissioned by the government in the 1980s, for “Vietnam theater veterans” (men and women who served on active duty in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia), 15 percent of men diagnosed for PTSD at the time of the study and 30 percent of men had PTSD at some point in their life. But a 2003 re-analysis found that “contrary to the initial analysis of the NVVRS data, a large majority of Vietnam veterans struggled with chronic PTSD symptoms, with four out of five reporting recent symptoms when interviewed 20-25 years after Vietnam.”
According to RAND Health and the RAND National Security Research Division, at least 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or clinical depression.
A recent sample of 600 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan found a 14 percent prevalence of PTSD, 39 percent alcohol abuse, and 3 percent drug abuse.
Experts often encounter conflicting variables. The independent research group Veterans and PTSD observed: “Do you look only at PTSD diagnosed within one year of return from battle? Do you only count PTSD that limits a soldier’s ability to go back into battle or remain employed, but that may have destroyed a marriage or wrecked a family? Do you look at the PTSD statistics for PTSD that comes up at any time in a person’s life: it is possible to have undiagnosed PTSD for 30 years and not realize it — possibly never or until you find a way to get better and then you realize there is another way to live. When you count the PTSD statistic of ‘what percentage of a population gets PTSD,’ is your overall starting group combat veterans, veterans who served in the target country, or all military personnel for the duration of a war?”
Similar disparities arise with suicide statistics. The U.S. Department of Defense has acknowledged that the federal government and its researchers commonly lose track of military personnel once soldiers retire, and does not track veteran suicides for all branches of the military, a 2015 New York Times article reported.
Suicide experts at the Department of Veterans Affairs that year also reported that they did not track suicide trends among veterans of specific military units. The Marine Corps does not track suicides of former service members, the report noted.
Positive trends foreseen
Several Arizona municipalities have spawned veterans court treatment intervention in recent years.
According to Arizona Veterans Court Mentor Project, Tucson Judge Michael Pollard established one of the state’s early veterans courts in Arizona in 2014.
Judge Richard Maxon, now the presiding judge in the Tempe Veterans Court, foresaw growth of veterans courts in the East Valley and other areas of the state and suggested volunteer mentor programs. As of late 2014, the program established volunteer mentors in the Phoenix Veterans Courts and aims to collaborate with the courts in Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Flagstaff.
Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside veterans collaborated in Navajo County’s court mentor efforts about a year-and-a-half ago.
“A good day is going to come when we have all 15 counties on the same ‘sheet of music,’” Keil expressed.
“We have a really good relationship with the Veterans Administration,” Navajo County Superior Court Judge Dale Nielson said. “The thing that I’ve learned more than anything from these veterans is their brotherhood and sisterhood. They look after each other. These are the men who make this program work.”