H-CENTRAL COAST

Jan 29, 2013 8:15 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Veterans court headed to SLO

"They finally stop using drugs, they're finally living with their loved ones, they have a safe place to live, when they were well on their way to a life of crime," said Judge Rogelio Flores.

A little over a year after Santa Maria debuted its veterans treatment court, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is looking to follow suit.

Young at heart, John Bushnell, 92, now spends most of his days soaking up Central Coast sun at the Santa Maria Lawn Bowling Club, but more than 60 years ago he was returning from World War II.

"I was out in the southwest Pacific, I didn't see much of the civilized world," said Bushnell.

Like many others in his generation, integrating back into society had its challenges but he says the scars of war were more physical than they are now.

"I know that the kids now are fighting a different kind of a war, and it's pretty tough on them," said Bushnell, "it has to do something to their psyche."

Over the next few years, millions of young soldiers will return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's been a real bloody conflict over there and many of these soldiers are getting involved in criminal justice matters," said Judge Flores, "they're getting involved in substance abuse, and they're self-medicating."

According to Judge Flores, sixty-five percent of them have some level of post-traumatic stress disorder.

He also says programs like the veterans treatment court allow troubled vets a second chance, so they don't end up behind bars.

"These are not easy programs, they're required to go to counseling, they're required to attend twelve step meetings, and they're required to refrain from alcohol and drug consumption," said Judge Flores.

Judge Flores says some soldiers may need this kind of structure, because this is all they knew when they were at war.

"I mean the common criminal, he hasn't been where they've been, he hasn't seen what they've seen, and gone through what they've gone through, there's a huge, huge difference," said Bushnell.

The program is for veterans who have committed non-violent crimes.
Today, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors encouraged program directors to keep moving forward with their plans to establish a veterans court in San Luis Obispo County.

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