While post-traumatic stress disorder affects millions of people, veterans suffer at higher rates than civilians, three times more for those who were deployed. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 11-20% of veterans who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year. Approximately 12% of Gulf War veterans and an estimated 30% of Vietnam Veterans struggle with PTSD. Symptoms include persistent flashbacks or nightmares, difficulty with emotional regulation, particularly anger management, and reckless or self-destructive behavior. Through California’s Veterans’ Treatment Court, veterans facing criminal charges may be eligible for treatment rather than punishment.
“The most common [struggle] for vets is PTSD [and] TBIs, which are traumatic brain injuries, just from service. That can turn into addictions, can turn into anger issues, and those can turn into other criminal activities if it goes far enough,” says Kevin Cadena, senior deputy probation officer with Sacramento County. “Approximately 90% of the veterans in Veterans’ Treatment Court are combat veterans from mainly the First Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Many have experienced gruesome events.”
The goal of Veterans’ Treatment Court is to address the underlying issues at hand in the hopes of getting those who have served their country back on their feet. In 2014, Sacramento County created its own Veterans’ Treatment Court, combining the efforts of judges, district attorneys, the VA and probation to connect veterans with mental health and counseling services, housing and employment assistance. This team creates a personalized treatment plan for veterans and helps them implement changes through a nine- to 12-month program.
“I think the treatment side does really resonate and they understand that they needed that. A lot of them tell us they didn’t think they had a problem, they didn’t think they needed anything. But when they graduate, [they say] ‘I realize I really had a problem and I needed this program, I needed the guidance, I needed to be accepted,’” Cadena says. “It doesn’t matter what they came into the program for, we accept them because they’re veterans. Between the efforts of Veterans’ Treatment Court and the network of connections I’ve built in the community, we all care about the veteran, person first, and then we can work on everything else.”
A 25-year Army veteran himself, Cadena knows firsthand the struggles veterans face.
“I’ve been told by a lot of vets how easy it was to connect with me,” he says. “I explain to them that I’ve had combat tours, I went through my own traumas. I don’t get into detail what I’ve gone through, but they understand that it happens to everybody. It created a little more instantaneous trust and from there I can build anything.”
For more information about Veterans’ Treatment Court, visit www.sacda.org/veterans-treatment-court/