A new Connecticut law allows veterans charged with low-level, non-violent offenses to participate in diversionary programs and avoid prosecution and jail time.
The law that took effect last October 1 allows veterans to use the Accelerated Rehabilitation Program (AR) twice instead of just once. They can also participate in the Supervised Diversionary Program which combines mental health treatment and probation supervision without first receiving a formal diagnosis.
“The intervention at an early time is probably the most attractive part about this particular legislation,” says Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz, RN, MSN, DPH, FAAN. “What we’re after is justice but for the veteran and the community.”
A study published last fall in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with anger and irritability associated with combat trauma were more than twice as likely as other veterans to be arrested. Nine percent of the nearly 1,400 combat veterans surveyed reported being arrested since returning home from deployments; among those with high irritability connected to posttraumatic stress disorder, 23 percent reported being arrested.
The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) developed the legislation along with the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic. The CVLC found that 21 percent of Connecticut’s 277,000 veterans meet the criteria for PTSD while another 22 percent are considered to have partial PTSD. Fewer than half seek treatment because of the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, especially within the military.
Younger veterans seem to have the most difficulty readjusting to civilian life after their deployment, Schwartz says. Those between 24 and 30 had the highest unemployment rate “because many of them never had another job other than being in the military.”
The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was 9.5 percent in November, higher than the national rate of 7.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Our soldiers are very, very well trained to perform tasks in a combat zone… Many of them are trained for the kind of work that doesn’t translate easily to work back here, like being a sniper,” says Madelon Baranoski, Ph.D., MSN, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University and director of the New Haven Jail Diversion Program.
Baranoski recalls a young veteran deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan who was charged with criminal mischief for breaking a fence during an argument with his neighbor. He was having financial troubles while awaiting an appointment to the police academy at the time. He was able to use AR and seek treatment for anger management issues. The charge was expunged so he could enter the academy, Baranoski says.
“He was very helpful in framing the problem. He said, ‘You know, I come back to nothing – nothing that uses my skills,’” Baranoski says.
Pre-trial diversionary programs are associated with lower recidivism rates. The new law also means significant savings in a state that spends approximately $92.35 per day on each prison inmate. The cost of supervising an offender in the community is only $32.66, the CVLC estimates.
By Janine Weisman