AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) – A new resource offering help for Aiken County veterans tangled-up in the legal system is close to becoming a reality.
Dwight Bradham, the Director Aiken County Veterans Affairs, says, “Veterans transition, they come off of active duty as a service member and, uh, they, they move out into the public sector. And sometimes, um, they may have difficulty in transition, and that could be due to their military experience.”
Aiken County Veterans Treatment Court helps veterans who have faced legal challenges get rehab, mentorship, and treatment.
“If it’s a minor charge, it might be something that gets taken completely off of their record,” says David Miller, the Senior Deputy Second Judicial Circuit Solicitor. “And if it’s a more serious charge, then it might be, you know, that they still have a conviction on their record, but the sentencing is deferred. It’s not gonna be open to violent offenders.”
The court’s goal is to fix the root causes of their issues, which may include substance abuse, mental health conditions like PTSD, and homelessness.
A $100,000 federal grant will be put into action.
“We’re able to screen and identify if those veterans, due to potential substance issues or mental health issues that may have occurred during their military service, can now look at, getting treatment through the VA systems,” says Bradham.
Navigating the definition of a veteran can be a complex issue. You can’t get V-A resources if you’re not honorably discharged. There are exceptions for people injured in combat zones.
“So the very first thing we’ve already implemented in Aiken County is if an individual gets booked into the Aiken County Detention Center, they are now asked, are you now or have you ever been a member of the United States military?” Solicitor Miller explains.
Meanwhile, the court does not aim to provide a “get out of jail free” card but rather to tackle the underlying problems that led veterans to be involved in the legal system.
“If they just won’t do what they’re supposed to do, then their case gets returned to the regular criminal justice system, and they can be prosecuted like any other defendant would,” says Miller
“Programs can last anywhere from a minimum of 10 to 14 weeks. It can go up to 18, 20 weeks Again, it’s gonna be the individual themselves, how they’re doing on the program, their willingness to you know, to be supportive of the program, to accept the program and use it,” says Bradham.
Leaders are working to identify eligible veterans and will start the program immediately.
The program is being run through the Second Circuit Solicitor’s office, which includes Barnwell and Bamberg. So, they are looking for vets in those areas, too.