The area’s highest-ranking law enforcement officials said Wednesday their departments should start tracking military veterans in the criminal justice system.
After hearing former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton’s keynote address at the ceremonial kickoff of Montgomery County’s Veteran’s Treatment Court, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl and Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer both said they hope to identify veterans who may need help.
“How do we better serve this community that deserves the best from us in terms of resources and services while holding them accountable for criminal acts they commit,” Biehl said. “I’m aware of a number of incidents this year that involve veterans, but trying to quantify it has been really difficult.
“We really need a way to quantify what’s happening to the veterans as they return back, particularly from combat service, and how many of them are falling through the cracks and in need of services. I think that number is likely far more substantial than we know.”
Added Plummer, “We need to do a better job of identifying them and we’re going to start that in the jail in the booking process.”
Stratton spoke to veterans in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Dennis’ Adkins’ veterans treatment docket and also to other guests and elected officials. The ceremony included an introduction of the Veterans Court Advisory Board, a proclamation from Ohio Gov. John Kasich and a presentation from Congressman Mike Turner’s office.
Ohio has an estimated 900,000 military veterans, the fifth-most of any state in the nation. Adkins estimated that more than 70 vets already are in the Montgomery County probation system — eight of which took part in the court’s first docket last month.
As an early advocate of mental health courts and champion of veterans courts, Stratton said such dockets are designed to help veterans with mental health, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder issues and match them up with existing resources.
“It’s really a tougher program,” Stratton said. “It’s not a soft on crime program. It’s what I call a smart on crime program.”
She turned to the veterans in attendance and explained why she believes veterans should have extra tools for social service and mental health.
“You defended our country,” Stratton said. “Sometimes you ended up with these problems — not because you had a bad personality or you made a mistake — but because you served our country and came back with war wounds, most of which we cannot see.
“We trained them to be soldiers; we trained them how to be killers,” Stratton said. “We didn’t train them to come back and be with families and ordinary kids’ issues and ordinary job issues, so we have to take that extra step.”
Stratton said she was glad to hear that local law enforcement hopes to work with the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center and other sources to identify people who may need help adjusting to civilian life.
“We are really trying to focus on helping them with that transition,” Stratton said. “I don’t want want to just catch them when they commit a crime and they go to veteran’s court. I want to get to them before.”
Biehl said the number of vets in need of services is likely higher than anyone knows, and that veterans court is a good safety net.
“It says to veterans that there is help here for you,” Biehl said. “If you end up on the wrong side of the law, you will be held accountable, but your service and the problems that have potentially arisen from that service will not be neglected.”