Recently, I was asked why veterans should receive special consideration and benefits from local and state government. Shouldn’t they be they looked after exclusively by the feds, in light of their contracts and service at that level?
The short answer is no. Members of the military are drawn from our local communities. They make a conscious decision to leave home and serve, often overseas, often in harm’s way. The massive system supporting this process removes them, step by step, from their communities, ultimately to accomplish missions far beyond the normal expectations America places on its citizens.
But they don’t simply disappear at the far end of that process. They must make the journey back to their neighborhoods, and that requires every bit the level of attention and support they received on the way into the military. Actually, it requires more.
The federal government simply does not have the reach or infrastructure to ensure this is a well-integrated and effective process. State and local government must play a role to ensure the investments we make in the men and women who serve are not wasted and that their substantial needs in reintegrating in civilian society are met comprehensively.
We’ve seen what happens when this doesn’t occur (think Vietnam) and it’s not good. Resources expended locally in support of veterans are an investment in the greater good. It’s a moral imperative and a way of capitalizing on the talent and culture of service veterans develop while in uniform.
A perfect — and very effective — example of this is New York’s Veteran Treatment Courts, which provide mentorship and services to low-level offenders as a way of squarely addressing both the causes and effects of the actions that got them arrested. Often, the causes are related to their military service. Regardless, the vast majority of veterans have a strong disposition toward community involvement. They wouldn’t have survived in the military without it.
The courts tap into that mindset in getting veteran offenders back on track. By signing contracts requiring classes, counseling, community service commitments, and other forms of tough love, they have reduced recidivism to 20 percent and saved taxpayer money that would otherwise be wasted on incarceration. It works.
The newest court in New York will open April 12 in Manhattan. It will join successful programs in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx in helping our veterans lead productive lives as civilians.
Is this a form of special treatment? Does it conflict with our notions of blind justice? Yes. It considers the military service of its participants as both a challenge and an opportunity. In doing so, it squarely addresses reality over tradition in order to achieve a universal benefit.
Just as we have asked members of the military to go “above and beyond” as veterans, they have the right to ask the same of us.
April 12 will be a good day in New York City.
Dan McSweeney is president of the United War Veterans Council.