Bennett Calls for Alternative Sentencing for Vets with PTSD
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Published: 18-Jan-2011
CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 18-Jan-2011 
State Rep. John Bennett announced Tuesday (January 18) that he will file legislation allowing veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) who are convicted of a crime to receive treatment in an alternative sentencing program.
Bennett, a Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said the program would ensure Veterans struggling with PTSD or TBI are given the opportunity to stop a downward spiral.
“This is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” said Bennett, a Sallisaw Republican. “This is about taking care of our Veterans. If you cut off the root, you can fix the problem.”
Under the legislation, judges could send a military veteran convicted of a crime to the Department of Veterans Affairs for treatment if the defendant has been diagnosed with service-related PTSD and/or TBI, and the condition was a contributing factor in the commission of the crime.
“There are a lot of veterans who struggle with PTSD and TBI, and rather than seek treatment they ‘self medicate’ by turning to alcohol and drugs, which then leads to other crimes,” Bennett said. “Most veterans tend to think, ‘I can fix this myself,’ which is usually not the way to go. It’s not until they hit rock bottom that most will consider a different route, and by then it’s often too late. Hopefully, this bill will help them by ensuring they still have a chance even when they hit rock bottom.”
Bennett said the bill would only allow the alternative sentencing for veterans with diagnosed service-related PTSD and/or TBI, a very specific and identifiable category of individuals.
“This is not an opportunity for someone who served 15 years ago to commit a crime and suddenly blame it on PTSD,” Bennett said. “You have to be diagnosed with the condition, and it has to be service-related.”
As a private citizen, Bennett worked with Matt Stiner and state Rep. Fred Jordan (a Jenks Republican), all Marine Veterans, to help create the state’s first veteran’s court, an alternative sentencing venue for veterans who were struggling with addiction due, in part, to PTSD.
He said his legislation will build on the success of that program, which has enjoyed an astounding 99 percent success rate since December 2008.
While the veteran’s court serves only those accused of misdemeanors, Bennett said the new proposed alternative sentencing program would include even those involved in some felony crimes.
“I think most veterans struggling with PTSD and TBI can be productive members of society once they get help,” Bennett said. “Ultimately, we owe them a second chance. These men and women have been willing to serve and, bottom line, kill America’s enemies. Even when you know you’ve done the right thing, that’s not an easy memory to live with and any veteran dealing with service-related PTSD or TBI should have the chance to get treatment before incarceration.”
The program could ultimately save taxpayer dollars because the alternative sentencing/treatment programs would be far less expensive than automatic incarceration, Bennett noted.
The legislation will be filed by this Thursday, January 20. The legislative session begins February 7.

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