Note: This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
The Obama Administration is committed to the health and well-being of our armed forces, including support for the physical and mental health needs of service members and their families. This ongoing commitment is part of the Administration's "Joining Forces" initiative, a national effort to mobilize all sectors of society to give our active-duty service members, veterans and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.
An important component of this effort is our work to support the military men and women returning from duty overseas who are suffering from substance use disorders. Too often, when left untreated, these veterans end up in the criminal justice system. But there is hope. In a growing number of communities across America, veterans with substance use disorders who also face a criminal charge are able to participate in Veterans Treatment Courts. With help from the Veterans Administration and local veterans organizations, these specialized courts respond to the needs of former soldiers by diverting offenders into treatment instead of incarceration and providing the social services they need. The first Veterans Treatment Court was launched in January 2008 in Buffalo, New York. Today there are over 95Veterans Treatment Courts in the United States, and another 200 are planned.
Today in Nashville, Tennessee, I had the honor of speaking with veterans and advocates about Federal, local, and community efforts to help them by supporting these types of courts. Joining me were Mike Jones, a participant in the Orange County Combat Veterans Court, and Nick Stefanovic, a graduate of the Rochester Veterans Treatment Court. These two young men told us of the difficulties they faced coming home and how their participation in a Veterans Treatment Court helped them become productive members of their communities again.
In April, the Obama Administration released the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, the government's primary blueprint for drug policy in the United States. The Strategy rejects a law-enforcement-only approach to drug policy, instead setting a course that relies on evidence-based solutions and views substance use as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue. Specifically, the new Strategy is guided by three facts: addiction is a disease that can be prevented and treated; people with substance use disorders can recover; and innovative new criminal justice reforms can stop the revolving door of drug use, crime, incarceration, and re-arrest.
In keeping with this new "third way" direction in drug policy, the Administration strongly supports substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery services, as well as alternatives to incarceration for veterans and other offenders with drug-use problems. There is no better example of a viable alternative to incarceration than Veterans Treatment Courts, which exemplify the Administration's balanced, 21st century approach to drug policy.
To read more about Veterans Treatment Courts, visit JusticeforVets.org.