Taylor County veterans can receive additional help instead of jail time

ABILENE, Texas - Several different agencies in Taylor County are putting together a program that would allow veterans who commit crimes to get special help.

The Taylor County district attorney, the county courts, The Veterans Service Office and the Betty Hardwick Center have been working on this project for several years - it's aimed at keeping veterans out of the legal system.

Beginning next year, honorably discharged veterans will have the option of getting
additional help after committing certain crimes.

Although each case will vary, here's what it might look like: If a veteran commits a crime like disorderly conduct, DWI, alcohol and substance abuse or any non-aggravated crime, he or she will be arrested and booked. Then the attorney process will start, whether they have their own or one is appointed.

This is where the pretrial diversion is requested, and an interview with the diversion officer will be set.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will then step in to let the veteran know what benefits might he or she might be entitled to, but weren't receiving. The veteran will also be appointed to a counselor for sessions about any mental health issues.

Once the course is completed, the veteran's charges will be dismissed and he or she could petition the court to possibly get the record wiped clean.  

Judge Sam Carroll said he feels that this program is a necessity for our veterans, since they risk their lives to defend ours.

"They're proud people," Judge Carroll said. "They serve their country, they don't want to be a burden but if they find themselves in that position; I don't think they're looking for an out, I think they're looking for a hand-up."

Commissioner Chuck Statler said he thinks the veterans should be given a chance to avoid legal trouble, and instead, get the help they need.

"You've got returning veterans that have done multiple tours in the Middle East and these people come back with some serious cobwebs and some problems," Statler said. "And what we want to do is divert them from the legal system and get them some help."

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