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County expanding rehab efforts: Charleston creates vets drug treatment court

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County expanding rehab efforts: Charleston creates vets drug treatment court

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett A. Wilson

Charleston County is expanding its drug rehabilitation efforts to include a special court for veterans.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson on Monday announced the creation of a Veterans Treatment Court, where vets who end up in the criminal justice system can receive targeted attention to move them away from the addiction that got them arrested.

The strategy, which has been used in other parts of the country, is being done in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Crisis Ministries.

"I think we're already seeing it," Wilson said of veterans returning from war zones and falling into dependency. She quoted national statistics indicating as many as 20 percent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of depression.

Veterans "need access to veteran-specific resources in order to close the revolving door of the criminal justice system," Wilson said.

Charleston already has an adult Drug Court where addicts who want to get off drugs follow a rigorous treatment of monitoring, restitution and employment requirements. The thrust is to address underlying causes of their conduct, instead of resorting to incarceration. The new veterans court takes those steps further, including using mentors with military experience to help out.

While several factors go into determining who is eligible for the new court, Wilson said a key decider is that the veteran's case does not include a violent offense.

"The main thing is the defendant has to want to battle his addiction," she added.

How many vets will go through the program is still an unknown. Ninth Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington said his office annually receives several hundred cases involving veterans.

One of the contributors to the local effort is third-year Charleston School of Law student Justice L. Perkins, 32, of Augusta.

He conducted much of the research into treatment options for veterans during an externship he did with the Homeless Justice Project at Crisis Ministries.

"It just seemed a great way to help community and to help veterans," said Perkins, also a staff sergeant in the S.C. National Guard.

Nationally, the first Veterans Treatment Court was established in 2008. Today there are more than 40 such courts throughout the U.S., the VA said.

Another advantage of having a special court for vets, Wilson said, is that it frees up space for civilians for the already up-and-running county Drug Court.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.

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