We recently took a trip to Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to talk to a Marine Corps veteran named John Bennett who now works for the Sequoyah County Sheriff's Department down there. John proposed an interesting idea for a veterans' court that he adapted from a court in Upstate New York.
While nobody comes home from war unchanged, most vets are able to deal with the transition back to civilian life just fine. But many have to deal with big-time mental-health problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury (more commonly known as PTSD and TBI). If untreated, these often lead to alcoholism and drug use, which can get a lot of vets into more trouble and land them in the criminal-justice system for anything from possession charges and DUIs to domestic violence and theft.
Once John heard about the court in New York, he thought they should implement this concept in his own state. Because Sequoyah County is so small, he headed next door to Tulsa County, which has one of the highest rates of returning vets in the country. He worked extremely hard to get a judge to volunteer for vets' court, and got the DA as well as the mayor of Tulsa involved as well.
The program will be up and running next month. Vets arrested for a crime will have the opportunity to be tried in veterans' court, where they may be sentenced to treatment and assigned a mentor, who is also a vet. What's especially cool is that the vets have someone they can identify with to help them along with the process.
I've talked to a lot of young vets over the past few months, and I think that a program like this veterans' court could help a lot of warriors become well-adjusted citizens again. These people served our country and put their lives on the line. Right now, they're coming back and not receiving the proper mental-health evaluations or help transitioning back to civilian life.
When I talked about this transition with John, he told me about the skills you needed to stay alive in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they didn't translate well to the skills you need to be a citizen back home. Fortunately, John has been able to deal with it, and hopefully, through his success, he'll be able to help some others get through it too.
While I was down there, I also got a chance to visit the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa. It's also known as "Black Wall Street," because in the early 20th century it was an African-American community with complete economic autonomy. In 1921, much of the town was burned down in a race riot. The area has a lot of historical value, and I hope to be able to do a story on it soon.
Don't miss "A Night for Vets: An MTV Concert for the BRAVE," presented by MTV's Choose or Lose campaign and CNN to support veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The show features performances by 50 Cent, Ludacris, Kanye West, Hinder, Saving Abel and more, and airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.