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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Carter was watching fellow veterans, broken before the bench. Afghanistan. Iraq. Post-traumatic stress, addictions, pretty much the same story a few hundred times a month. Carter also knew that the VA hospital a few miles away had plenty of empty seats in programs for PTSD and addiction.

Marc Carter: You have to put them in a program that's going to help them, that's going to make them be successful. 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 their problems, PTSD and drug use, then they'll be successful. They won't have to go to prison.

Scott Pelley: Do some of these veterans not want to believe they have PTSD or not want to admit that they have that kind of problem?

Marc Carter: There is an interest-- a vested interest in them not to admit that they have PTSD while they're serving. There's a lot of self-destruction in that because you know you need the help and you're not getting it. And you have others that are just in denial, "Everybody else is wrong, not me. The whole world is wrong, I'm right." That's denial.

In 2009, Carter and other volunteers opened a court just for vets who've committed first time felonies, things like assault, robbery, drunk driving, spousal abuse. After arrest, vets have a choice, go through the regular system or come to this court with its mandatory two years of treatment and supervision. About 40 vets a year chose Judge Carter.

Marc Carter: They do more programs on this probation than they would ever do on any other probation in the state.

Scott Pelley: Are you saying this is a harder road?

Marc Carter: It's tougher for them. They make a commitment to me and that is, "I'm going to do what it takes. I'm going to go to all the programs and treatment programs." And my promise to them is, "I will be patient and I will give you time to change back to that person you were."

The road back is in court-ordered therapy, three or four times a week for addiction and post-traumatic stress. They meet in groups and individually with psychiatrists. The VA is getting a lot of credit these days for developing innovative PTSD therapies.

Harris: My reoccurring' dream was the fact that no matter how hard I tried to protect the people that were behind me, the guys that were coming, I couldn't kill. And their intention is to hurt everybody behind me and there's nothing I can do to stop it. So I wake up screaming not because I'm gonna get hurt, but because I wasn't able to stop everyone else from getting hurt.

John: Anybody have sleep paralysis?

Harris: Oh where you can't move?

John: You wake up-- you wake up and you open your eyes but you can't move your body. And you feel like somebody's about to get you? Oh it's the most terrifying experience of my life.

Kevin Thomas: There's two flashbacks that have occurred for the last seven years. I mean, I get up out of bed, I'm there. Our Hummer gets hit. And this event never even happened in Iraq. And everybody on my team in my Hummer is hurt. And I'm reaching for my M16-- my weapon. And I'm patting on the ground and I can't find it. I can't find it, over and over again.

That's Kevin Thomas, a former Marine. He was in Iraq one night on routine duty when the kind of thing happened that sears a date into a man's memory.

Kevin Thomas: It was January 26, 2005. Our unit was out at nighttime doing security. And we got the call over the radio that there was a helicopter that was down. Everybody in that perished.

Scott Pelley: What did you see?

Kevin Thomas: Wreckage, carnage, bodies.

Scott Pelley: How many?

Kevin Thomas: Twenty-five to 30 Marines, brothers, family.

Six months later, Thomas returned to his own family in Houston.

Kevin Thomas: I started drinking heavily and certain symptoms of PTSD kicked in. I didn't know what was going wrong with me. I started isolating a lot, avoidance. And little, but slowly, the things that I acquired, I lost after I came back from Iraq.

He lost his job and his family's trust. Coming home was hard because in a sense he was still at war. In Iraq he lived with hidden threats all around. His aggression was on a hair trigger. Back in Texas, he didn't want to leave the house. He was angry all the time and he finally hit his wife, felony assault.