For the millions who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, transitioning back to life at home can often be as challenging as heading off to war. When they return, some find themselves in a place they never thought they could be: in trouble with the law. In Texas, a creative new program offers an alternative to standard justice, which is helping to straighten out lives twisted by the stress of war. Scott Pelley speaks with a judge, a veteran himself, who helped found the vets program and to some of the returning warriors it is helping in a 60 Minutes report to be broadcast Sunday, Oct. 14 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Texas State District Judge Marc Carter, an Army veteran, became alarmed at the number of vets he saw in the courts of Harris County. He knew from experience that standard justice would probably not help the underlying causes of their criminal behavior, especially the post-traumatic stress disorder common to combat veterans. "If you just put them out there on probation they are going to fail. If you put them on probation that is tailored to deal with problems, PTSD and drug use, then they'll be successful, they won't have to go to prison," says Carter.
He and other volunteers set up the veterans' court program in 2009. It deals with first-time felony offenders and uses treatment programs offered mostly by the Veterans Administration. But there was a catch: signing up for the program meant a mandatory two years of treatment and probationary supervision. Says Carter, "They do more programs on this probation than they would ever do on any other probation in the state," he tells Pelley. "It's tougher for them. They make a commitment to me...and my promise to them is 'I will be patient and I will give you time to change back to that person you were.'" It's not for everyone; about 40 vets a year sign on to the program.
One of the first to benefit from the program is Arthur Davis. Once a Marine First Sergeant in Iraq and Afghanistan, Davis found himself in jail charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the result of a drunken fight. Instead of serving a long prison sentence, he agreed to abide by Carter's program. He is sober now and counsels other vets in the program. "It put me back in a leadership position. The veterans' court prescribed a nice, detailed pattern of what you need to do in order to get onboard," says the retired Marine.
There are about 100 other veterans like Davis who have gone through the program in Harris County. Similar court programs for veterans have been started in 27 states.