A special court for veterans? This veteran says, no thanksby Ken Kalish
Park Rapids, Minn. — I'm a veteran, not a lawyer, but the whole concept of a special veteran's court troubles me.
Breaking the law is a choice -- an addiction for some, perhaps, but a choice nonetheless.
A vet who uses drugs or alcohol or PTSD as an excuse for breaking the law is a vet who's either too self-reliant to ask for help or whose self-image requires him to prey on someone weaker than himself.
We already have a mechanism in place within our justice system to deal with people who might be suffering from mental health problems or addiction. Yes, combat veterans are changed by the experience of combat itself, but the leap from having been in combat to being entitled to special treatment in the courts is a long one.
As long as there have been wars and prisons, there have been incarcerated veterans.
There were many veterans among the inmates at Alcatraz who volunteered to make and maintain the anti-submarine nets protecting San Francisco and Oakland harbors during WW II. Many prisons have some kind of organized inmate veterans group.
The important thing to remember, though, is that every one of those incarcerated veterans has earned his (or her) place in prison.
Are we going to offer a "do over" to those already incarcerated veterans?
Prison guards like to say the only difference between the people in prison and the people out of prison is that some of us haven't been caught yet.
Whether it's driving over the speed limit, filching a pen from the office, or placing a friendly bet on a football game, everybody breaks the law.
You can argue those are petty offenses, but that's just rationalization.
Let's face it. If everyone could define for him- or herself what constitutes a crime, we wouldn't need criminal courts, jails, or prisons.
I guess that's what really concerns me about different court procedures for first-time-offender veterans.
We have created a special class of justice for a special class of defendant.
If you're a combat veteran and you're doing things that are stupid or illegal, ask for help. It might bruise your ego, but it will save a lot of grief for everyone, including you and those who love you. Take it from someone who's been there. If you don't know where to begin, start with one of the VA's walk-in mental health clinics.
But if you break the law and get caught, you should receive the same justice as everyone else. Personal responsibility and courage aren't qualities one should leave on the battlefield.
Ken Kalish, who served as a gunner on river patrol in Vietnam and as an announcer with American Forces Viet Nam Network, operates a llama rescue service in Park Rapids.
- Morning Edition, 07/16/2010, 6:35 a.m.