Military veterans facing criminal charges could go to mental health or alcohol treatment instead of jail under a proposal that King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson plans to introduce to the King County Council.
Ferguson's proposal calls for creating a Veterans Treatment Court similar to the specialty courts that King County already operates for drug offenders, the mentally ill and their families. The new court would operate at the county's district court level and tap federal Veterans Affairs resources to pay for treatment or other services in lieu of jail.
Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, have unique needs to address, including much higher rates of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, Ferguson said in a joint news release with King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is working on the proposal.
The Department of Defense estimates that 22 percent of all the combat injuries in the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts are to the brain, compared with 12 percent for Vietnam-era combat injuries. The DOD also says that 17 percent of Army personnel on active duty suffer from PTSD and a quarter of Army reservists test positive for PTSD within six months of returning home.
Either condition can cause erratic behavior. If a veteran also suffers from depression or other mental illness, the combination can trigger drinking or outbursts that can lead to arrest for drunk driving or domestic violence, according to a King County staff report on Ferguson's proposal.
Ferguson, who is running for state attorney general, previously sponsored legislation to stop treatment and other pre-trial options for certain people charged with assault or domestic violence ("New law nixes phone-ins for some violent offenders," RC, Aug. 10).
The one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax that King County devotes to mental illness and drug dependency (MIDD) programs would fund the Veterans Court. The MIDD Oversight Committee will review Ferguson's proposal on Aug. 25.
If the King County Council passes the legislation this fall, the Veterans Court could open on Jan. 1.