Coming Home: Justice for our veterans

An alternative court program in Harris County, Texas, seeks to rehabilitate veterans who turn to crime for the first time

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The following is a script from "Coming Home" which aired on Oct. 14, 2012. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Ashley Velie, producer.

Two and a half million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them, more than once. The VA tells us about 20 percent come home with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD. So, that comes to about 500,000. For some, returning is harder than they imagined. The suicide rate for the Army is up 15 percent over last year. For the Marines its up 28 percent. A few of our troops return to become something they never thought they could be: criminals, for the first time in their lives.

Around Houston, in Harris County, Texas, 400 veterans are locked up every month. We met a judge there who saw them coming before the bench, fresh out of the warzone and he thought a lot of them were worth saving. Judge for yourself once you meet some of our troops, coming home.

Scott Pelley: How long in the Marine Corps?

Arthur Davis: Almost 22 years, sir.

Scott Pelley: Number of combat deployments?

Arthur Davis: Four altogether.

Scott Pelley: And you made first sergeant.

Arthur Davis: Yes, sir.

Scott Pelley: Leader of Marines.

Arthur Davis: Yes, sir.

Scott Pelley: It was a good life.

Arthur Davis: Yes, sir.

Let us show you two pictures of Arthur Davis. This one, with the president, was taken in 2006, in Afghanistan, when Davis was in charge of our embassy security there. This is a mug shot they took a couple of years later in the Harris County jail -- one year after his retirement from the Corps.

Arthur Davis: One of the things I swore that I'd never do was go to jail. And for seven days I was in the county jail, trying to figure out what was I going to do, thinking about all the things that I screwed up on, all the hard work that I've put myself through to get to this point in my life where I could say, you know, I did a good job. And I screwed it all up. I thought my life was over.

It could have been over. He faced up to 20 years for assault with a deadly weapon. Davis, drunk and in a rage, took a gun and a knife into a fight with a neighbor.

Arthur Davis: It was just too much for me to deal with. You know, I thought I was the toughest person I knew, I could handle anything. But I couldn't deal with my own demons.

The demons came in Iraq. When Davis was leading 200 Marines. One day his Marines were in a convoy. There was a bomb. Two were killed in this Humvee. As first sergeant, Davis was the old man, the father figure who gave advice, courage, order and discipline. He'd promised to bring them all home. He promised.

Arthur Davis: These guys, they're gone. You know, you kind of feel responsible. You know-- you know, you kind of say why not me? Why didn't it happen to me?

Symptoms of PTSD followed him home. Anger, anxiety. Civilians didn't seem to get it. He thought the world was dangerous, threats everywhere. Crowds were menacing, noises startling. Davis medicated himself.

Arthur Davis: I realized, you know, some things were happening differently. You know, I didn't want to go around crowded areas. I didn't want to go around people. I found myself getting up in the morning, drinking. Going to sleep at night, drinking. During the day, drinking. I wouldn't even go to work. You know, taking responsibility for those two guys that we lost, I mean, I just felt responsible more and more so. And now my whole support group, my brothers, Marines, they were gone.

It turned out another military brother was also in the criminal justice system. An Army veteran named Marc Carter.

Bailiff: All rise...

Texas State District Judge Marc Carter.

Marc Carter: I will give you some options, and you will tell me whether or not you want to be here or whether or not you just don't want to deal with it. And if that's the case, then I know where to send you. Prison.