JEFFERSON CITY — Hal J. Dulle, a former U.S. Marine, was exposed to drugs for the first time when he was serving in Vietnam.

“It was a way to deal with the trauma,” said Dulle. “It became a common thing to lean on to adjust to life after war.”

Dulle said that when coming back from the battlefield, many veterans struggled to adapt to their new life, with many committing suicide and struggling with mental illnesses.

One in 5 veterans has post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Justice for Vets, and when left untreated, mental health issues can lead to a veteran’s involvement in the criminal justice system.

That’s the reason why veteran treatment courts have been established across the United States.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee discussed a bill on Tuesday evening that would require the establishment of more veterans treatment courts in Missouri.

The legislature voted on legislation about drug and alcohol treatment courts during a special session in September, which passed and became law Jan. 8. These courts mandate treatment and medical resources for defendants as an alternative to serving prison time.

Rep. Dave Griffith, sponsor of House Bill 547, said the new law gives veterans the option to go to a treatment court, but he said he does not want it to be an option anymore.

“I’m going to change it from a ‘may’ to a ‘shall,’” Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said of the law’s language. “We need to increase the number of veteran courts.”

Griffith, vice chairman of the Veterans Committee and former Green Beret of the U.S. Army 8th Special Forces Group, said that an increased number of veteran treatment courts would make it easier for veterans to reach a court, because some have to drive “a great deal of a distance” to follow their program every day.

Rep. Robert Sauls, R-Independence, and Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, said they will co-sponsor the bill.

Schroer said he had seen a great success rate of the veterans after their graduation from treatment courts.

Rep. David Evans, R- West, said that, although he fully supported the initiative, the money was not there to finance more veterans treatment courts.

“It involves a whole set of resources that many small areas simply do not have,” Evans said.

Griffith acknowledged the concern, but said the money needs to be found to help Missouri’s veterans.

Supervising editor is Kathryn Hardison.

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