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Drug Court Proponents Await D.C. Region's First Veterans' Court

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Veteran Matthew Stiner works with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals; he says the area's first veterans' treatment court will come as soon as a local judge realizes how much the system can help.
Jonathan Wilson
Veteran Matthew Stiner works with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals; he says the area's first veterans' treatment court will come as soon as a local judge realizes how much the system can help.

Ian Sullivan served in the U.S. Army and did stints both in Kuwait and Bosnia during the late 1990s. He came back with an alcohol problem that quickly turned his life into a fiasco.

"One night I was intoxicated and ended up getting arrested," Sullivan says. "I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the Veterans' Court program."

Sullivan ended up in a Michigan veterans' court. Nine months later, he was alcohol free, held a steady job, and able to take advantage of the veterans' benefits he had earned through his service.

"Between the Alcoholics Anonymous, and the counseling, it forced me to face the issues that drove me to drink as much as I did anyway," Sullivan says.

But if he had lived in the D.C. area, he wouldn't have gotten that same kind of support. In Northern Virginia, Loudoun County holds the only adult drug court, and it isn't veteran-specific. Drug courts serve non-violent addicts, and serve as the model for veterans' courts.

Michelle White, the drug court coordinator for Loudoun County and president of the Virginia Drug Court Association, says camaraderie is a big part of what makes a drug court work.

"They support each other, but at the same time they hold each other accountable for their actions, and they can all say, 'I've been there, so let's talk about it,'" she says.

Matthew Stiner, a veteran who works with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals says the effect is heightened with an all-Veteran docket.

"To know that their brother and sister next to them has had similar experiences, that really helps them out, it serves kind of as a crutch," says Stiner. "They mentor each other."

But not everyone believes lawbreakers should be treated like victims. Virginia requires state approval to create a specialty court, and all of the seven localities that applied for permission to launch drug courts this year were rejected.

There are a total of 30 drug or other substance courts in Virginia, but none of them focus on veterans.

The atmosphere is better in D.C. and Maryland for specialty courts, and Stiner is optimistic the area's first veterans' treatment court will crop up soon.

"We just need to find that judge who is willing to tackle this issue," he says.

The need to address the problem isn't going away. A recent study showed that drug or alcohol abuse was involved in 30 percent of the U.S. Army's suicide deaths from 2003 to 2009.

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