Today, Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-23) announced the Santa Barbara County Probation Department has been awarded $350,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to continue implementation of the Veteran's Treatment Court (VTC) in the Santa Maria Valley. Earlier this year, Capps wrote a letter to the DOJ on behalf of Santa Barbara County's grant application.
VTC's were started to respond to the growing trend of veterans appearing before the courts who faced criminal charges stemming from substance dependency and/or mental illness. The VTC will focus on diverting high risk veteran-defendants who are charged with non-violent criminal conduct to a specialized court docket. The court will also offer specific, targeted resources and provide VTC clients the opportunity to establish clean and sober lifestyles, reduce criminality and psychiatric episodes, and improve the quality of their lives.
Currently, one in four veterans aged 18 to 25 years meet the criteria for having a substance abuse problem. A recent report issued by the U.S. Institute of Medicine details increased rates of prescription drug abuse as well as heavy alcohol use and binge drinking in the military. Additionally, one in five returning veterans has reported symptoms of a mental health issue, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Both PTSD and TBI can lead to depression, substance abuse, joblessness and homelessness.
This is good news for our veterans and Central Coast communities. As the VA continues its efforts to prevent, detect, and treat PTSD, TBI, and substance abuse, it's important that we ensure additional support systems are in place to help our veterans get help when they need it. I applaud Santa Barbara County for leading the way and working to implement this innovative and much needed program for our veterans in need. Through their service to our country, our vets have put it all on the line for us and we always need to be there for them," said Congresswoman Capps.
It is truly a humbling experience for me to have been asked to preside over our new Veteran's Treatment Court in Santa Maria. I am especially grateful to Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs and the Bureau of Justice Assistance for awarding our court a three-year grant which will allow the Santa Barbara County Probation Department to assign a full time probation officer to this effort. I also want to thank Congresswoman Lois Capps and numerous other justice partners for their support. Too many of our nation's veterans are suffering from any number of symptoms directly related to their service to this country, including mental disorders, homelessness and substance abuse. Our court is designed to help these heroes return to a more productive and healthy lifestyle," said Judge Rogelio Flores, Superior Court of California, Santa Barbara County.
Veterans are a unique subset of our society. Their lived experiences and struggles while serving our country can sometimes lead to complications in transitioning back into civilian life. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan has left thousands of veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and other psychological disorders that can result in alcoholic abuse, drug abuse, and social problems. These problems are not unique to veterans but unlike civilians the source of veteran's problems can often be traced back to their service. This new grant aims at mitigating specific troubles that service men and women have when they come back home from war. I hope that more programs like this can be initiated in the near future. Our veterans deserve our help and I am pleased that this grant is a big step forward," said Victor Marta, President, Student Veterans Organization at UCSB.
Readjustment to civilian life is difficult enough without dealing with the law. Sometime we veterans get into trouble because we have not adjusted or fully came back from the places we deployed. This program will afford veterans the opportunity to be treated, instead of being labeled a criminal; having their progression into society regressed. It's about time for a program of this nature to be fully implemented," said Victor Orta, AMVETS Post 3 Commander.
The new court represents a partnership between the Santa Barbara County Probation Department, County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, the Substance Abuse Treatment Court, and a consortium of Community Based Organizations, in collaboration with the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs.