The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today praised the members the Veterans Treatment Court Convention for their work in developing the innovative program designed to help veterans get their lives back on track.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the program, which grew out of a grass-roots effort in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, is especially needed for a generation of service members that has lived through 12 years of repeated deployments into intense combat.
One of Dempsey’s focus areas as chairman is to find ways to integrate these veterans back into their communities. The vast majority of vets do so with few problems, but some have severe problems stemming from their service.
In 2008, Buffalo Judge Robert Russell noticed an increasing number of veterans coming to his court for drug and alcohol offenses who were clearly suffering from mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. The courts work with the local VA to get these men and women the help they need. The most important part of the program is the mentoring that other veterans provide.
The idea has grown. Currently, there are 130 veterans treatment courts in the United States with many more planned, officials said. The convention here in Washington was the first where officials from around the country could meet to share experiences and best practices.
Dempsey said all those involved with dealing with veterans need to remind the communities of what the veterans bring back to their towns and cities.
“There are stereotypes that somehow always emerge after a conflict,” the chairman said. “It does them a great disservice if we brand them with stereotypes.”
Dempsey wants Americans to understand what veterans bring back home. This generation of veterans, he said, is adaptable.
“They changed the way we do military operations,” Dempsey said. “The enemies we confronted didn’t particularly comport themselves to our organizational designs or our way of waging war.”
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have demonstrated uncommon courage, the chairman said. The all-volunteer force, he noted, sustained itself and the families of those who served.
“Even today with 54,000 serving in Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands deployed elsewhere around the world, they and their families continue to bear up under the strain of sacrifice and family separation,” Dempsey said.
And, this generation of vets is resilient, the chairman said. That’s something that those who work with the veterans treatment courts know full well, the general said.
Dempsey tells audiences around America that they shouldn’t consider reaching out to veterans as an act of charity.
“They should reach out to veterans because what they get is someone who will contribute in an incredible way to their organizations,” he said.
Dempsey reminded the audience that this is not a new issue. He noted that Gen. George Washington delivered his farewell address to the Continental Army 230 years to the day. Washington wrote in his farewell, “With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you. I now most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”
The nation’s act of reintegrating its military veterans after wartime is older than the American Republic, Dempsey said.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)