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County favors special vets court 

Veterans convicted of certain low-level crimes could soon be sentenced to a treatment program for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder instead of incarceration.

Dana Cummings, the San Luis Obispo County Veterans Services officer, presented a general plan for a special Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors during its Jan. 29 meeting. SLO County already offers similar special courts for drug offenders and people with other mental health problems.

The board took no action on the issue, but all five members and more than a dozen citizen speakers expressed support for the program, which Cummings said has successfully reduced recidivism in other counties. Cummings said he would fine tune the details and collect relevant statistics before requesting an official resolution of support from the board sometime within the next few months. It could be implemented almost immediately afterward, he explained, and it would allow veterans to address the underlying cause of their criminal behaviors.

“For lack of a better term, they’ve been broken by their military service,” Supervisor Adam Hill said. “I think we owe it to them as a community to do what we can to fix them.”

Cummings described a VTC in which veterans convicted of substance abuse, assault, domestic violence, and other atypical behaviors (those that didn’t occur before being deployed) could ask that their traumas during deployment be verified and considered by the judge, who could sentence them to probation and an 18-month treatment program. Upon successful completion, veterans could legally leave the conviction off of employment applications (except for law enforcement jobs), but the crimes could be considered as priors when it comes to potential future arrests. Veterans accused of serious felonies would still be tried in traditional courts.

The program is expected to cost the county roughly $39,000, but Cummings said savings realized through fewer incarcerations and fewer repeat arrests would more than pay for the program.

Veterans Services estimates that 25,000 vets live in SLO County, accounting for roughly 10 percent of the homeless and six percent of the jail population.

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