News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, Oct. 14, 2011
AUGUSTA, Ga -- The number of soldiers returning with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries has become a real problem for Jim Lorraine.
"I use a quote that came from Patton. He wrote a letter to his wife saying, 'How do the American people expect us to come back normal after two and a half years of war?' And we've been at war for 10 years," said the executive director of the Augusta Warrior Project.
He says PTSD and other mental illnesses often come with another side effect.
"Something poor decision making and cognitive deficits which may lead someone to make poor decisions that they end up in the court system [for]," he said.
That's why the Augusta Warrior Project and Judge James Blanchard have created a new court. It's a court just for veterans.
"This court would require them -- if they have a non-violent felony charge against them -- would require them to seek treatment at the VA hospital and come to court on a weekly basis," explained Judge Blanchard, a Superior Court judge for the Augusta Judicial Circuit.
Judge Blanchard says it's something combat vets deserve. Especially nowadays when he says serving just one tour is unusual.
"They would have to abide by a curfew, remain drug free, and after a period of two years, their case would be dismissed against them," he said.
But Lorraine says the key is all about rehabilitation.
"I think that the point is that they get treatment, and that's the most important thing is that you get treatment and you get it early and you address the issues, because you can overcome them," Lorraine said.
Blanchard has been setting up the court for a while now, but the paperwork is done now. He says the first hearings will come in about two weeks.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the veteran's court is a trend that will be spread across the nation," he said.
The court will be just one of a handful of them around the country right now. When vets are charged, they'll fill out an application with the court. Then, it's up to the district attorney and VA to approve them.
This veteran's court will only serve the Augusta Judicial Circuit. That includes just Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties. They hope the idea will catch fire here locally, so veterans in other local counties can also enjoy something like it.