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Constable's Notebook - November 2011

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Americans will celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the surrender of Germany that ended World War I – “the war to end all wars.” This Veterans Day will be observed while the United States is engaged in two wars and many other dangerous assignments all across the globe.

While many Americans will participate in parades to honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, hundreds of thousands of veterans we will honor are now serving time in jails or mental institutions, are homeless on American streets, or are unemployed as a result of the physical and mental injuries they received while serving our nation. The Veterans Administration estimates that as many as 25%-30% of returning combat troops suffer from some form of mental illness or substance abuse that makes it much more difficult for them to obtain or keep their jobs, pay rent, support their families or stay out of criminal trouble. The Veterans Administration reports that about 18 veterans commit suicide each day. To be blunt, these young men and women were trained to kill. They have witnessed and participated in horrific situations and for many the transition back to civilian life is very difficult.

Four years ago Constable Maria Canchola and I recognized that significant numbers of veterans were returning to our community and getting into criminal trouble. As a result we formed the Veterans Intervention Project (VIP), a collaboration of local, state and federal agency representatives to identify and assist veterans the first time they are arrested. Our initial study published two years ago found that about 153 veterans were arrested each month with an average of nearly three arrests per veteran per year. The most recently published VIP study documented an uptick of arrests of veterans to nearly 170 arrests per month. The majority of charges stem from self-medicating and anger issues that include drug and substance abuse, and assaults and domestic violence. About 3/4 of charges are misdemeanors and 1/4 are felonies.

The VIP has initiated efforts to identify arrested veterans and help them obtain treatment, housing, job training and legal assistance services. One year ago Travis County established a court especially designed for veterans. Of the veterans who have been accepted into the Veterans Court to date, 85% have complied with court orders and the first two veterans will graduate the day before Veterans Day. We are proud that these efforts to assist veterans have been recognized by the Texas Association of Counties as a Best Practice.

President Obama recently told veterans “It’s about how we treat our veterans every single day of the year. It’s about making sure they have the care they need and the benefits that they have earned when they come home. It’s about serving all of them as well as they have served the United States of America.” Constable Canchola and I strongly encourage everyone to take an hour out your Veterans Day holiday to participate in or observe the Veterans Day parade and other veterans’ observances throughout our community. We owe our veterans that much and much more.



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