Connecticut seeks to divert veterans from jail to treatment

Starting this month, Connecticut will follow a number of other states in beginning a program aimed at identifying veterans who are arrested for minor crimes and diverting them from jails to treatment. The state's initiative has an unusual twist, allowing veterans to use the Accelerated Rehabilitation (AR) program twice, rather than just once. AR allows low-risk defendants to complete community treatment programs and avoid prosecution.

"It's a really important change for a group of people who can benefit from services already in place," said Margaret Middleton, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, which worked with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School to lobby for the veterans' bill.

"Given the high incidence of PTSD and stress that our veterans are experiencing, we're concerned that their first introduction to the mental health system should come before incarceration, where possible."

The new diversion program coincides with a national study showing that Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have anger and irritability associated with combat trauma are more than twice as likely as other veterans to be arrested. The new study of a national sample of nearly 1,400 combat veterans found that while 9 percent overall reported being arrested since returning home from deployments, 23 percent of those with high irritability connected to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reported being arrested.

In Connecticut, which has more than 245,000 veterans, 16,000 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new initiative will allow defendants to access supervised diversion programs, which offer mental health treatment, without requiring that they have a formal psychiatric diagnosis. As veterans are identified as eligible, court support officers will work to connect them with existing drug-treatment programs and other services offered through the VA, the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs and the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. That process has already started, with the diversion rules taking effect Oct.