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Featured: Air Force Staff Sgt. Rosemery Aragón signals as airmen load simulated patients during a readiness training exercise in Alexandria, La., March 13, 2014. Aragón, an aeromedical service superintendent, is assigned to the 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.

U.S. Air Force photograph By TECH. SGT. MATTHEW SMITH

Veterans or current members of the U.S. armed forces – mostly women – who were victims of sexual trauma, such as rape, during their military service, then wind up breaking Texas laws as a direct result of that anguish would be able to receive proper treatments under court supervision rather than going to jail, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has proposed. House Bill 1958 by Canales would allow such victims of sexual trauma, including those who were sexually harassed during their time in the military service, to have their cases heard by a growing number of specialized judicial forums in Texas, known as veterans courts. His measure was heard at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 by the House Committee on Defense & Veterans’ Affairs. “In 2010, women in the military had a higher chance of being raped than being killed in combat. In 2014, 48 percent of women in the military said they experienced sexual harassment, while 8.2 percent experienced unwanted sexual contact,” Canales reported. “Sexual trauma is a very deeply distressing experience, and the terrible and often long-lasting shock of such events can have the most dire consequences.” Texans will get their first in-depth look at Canales’ HB 1958 during the committee hearing, which will take place as the U.S. Department of Defense observes Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Currently, about 15 veterans courts, which were authorized several years ago by the Texas Legislature, are operating in Texas, including in Hidalgo and Cameron counties. “Veterans courts are designed to provide intense treatment programs to veterans suffering from medical and emotional catastrophes, specifically brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Canales. “Veterans and active military personnel who are victims of sexual trauma stemming from their service also should be allowed to receive the specialized medical services they, too, need and deserve, rather than being cast to jail with no regard to what they have suffered.” In order to qualify for treatments through a veterans court, the local district attorney must agree that the veteran’s criminal behavior was significantly affected by trauma directly related to their military service. A December 5, 2014 account by MilitaryTimes.com supports Canales’ concern that sexual trauma does indeed continue to affect many military personnel. “The number of rapes and violent sexual assaults is significantly higher than previously thought, according to new data released by the Defense Department and the Rand Corp.,” Patricia Kime, staff writer for MilitaryTimes.com wrote in her story, “Incidents of rape in military much higher than previously reported”. According to Kime, “preliminary findings of an extensive survey of 170,000 troops released Thursday (December 4) revealed that 20,000 service members said they had experienced at least one incident of unwanted sexual contact in the past year, representing nearly 5 percent of all active-duty women and 1 percent of active-duty men.” Her story noted that many of the 20,000 assaults in 2014 “were violent, probing acts. Nearly half the assaults reported by women and 35 percent reported by men were ‘penetrative sexual assaults’ — crimes that include rape and penetration with an object.”

••••••

Veterans, active military personnel victimized by sexual trauma during their service would qualify for key veterans court treatment programs under Rep. Canales’ legislation

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Veterans or current members of the U.S. armed forces – mostly women – who were victims of sexual trauma, such as rape, during their military service, then wind up breaking Texas laws as a direct result of that anguish would be able to receive proper treatments under court supervision rather than going to jail, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has proposed.

House Bill 1958 by Canales would allow such victims of sexual trauma, including those who were sexually harassed during their time in the military service, to have their cases heard by a growing number of specialized judicial forums in Texas, known as veterans courts.

His measure was heard at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, April 8 by the House Committee on Defense & Veterans’ Affairs.

“In 2010, women in the military had a higher chance of being raped than being killed in combat. In 2014, 48 percent of women in the military said they experienced sexual harassment, while 8.2 percent experienced unwanted sexual contact,” Canales reported. “Sexual trauma is a very deeply distressing experiences, and the terrible and often long-lasting shock of such events can have the most dire consequences.”

Texans will get their first in-depth look at Canales’ HB 1958 during the committee hearing, which will take place as the U.S. Department of Defense observes Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Currently, about 15 veterans courts, which were authorized several years ago by the Texas Legislature, are operating in Texas, including in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

“Veterans courts are designed to provide intense treatment programs to veterans suffering from medical and emotional catastrophes, specifically brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Canales. “Veterans and active military personnel who are victims of sexual trauma stemming from their service also should be allowed to receive the specialized medical services they, too, need and deserve, rather than being cast to jail with no regard to what they have suffered.”

In order to qualify for treatments through a veterans court, the local district attorney must agree that the veteran’s criminal behavior was significantly affected by trauma directly related to their military service.

A December 5, 2014 account by MilitaryTimes.com supports Canales’ concern that sexual trauma does indeed continue to affect many military personnel.

“The number of rapes and violent sexual assaults are significantly higher than previously thought, according to new data released by the Defense Department and the Rand Corp.,” Patricia Kime, staff writer for MilitaryTimes.com wrote in her story, “Incidents of rape in military much higher than previously reported”.

According to Kime, “preliminary findings of an extensive survey of 170,000 troops released Thursday (December 4, 2014) revealed that 20,000 service members said they had experienced at least one incident of unwanted sexual contact in the past year, representing nearly 5 percent of all active-duty women and 1 percent of active-duty men.”

Her story noted that many of the 20,000 assaults in 2014 “were violent, probing acts. Nearly half the assaults reported by women and 35 percent reported by men were ‘penetrative sexual assaults’ — crimes that include rape and penetration with an object.”

WHAT ARE VETERANS COURTS?

In November 2013, Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, explained the structure and goals of veterans courts in the state.

His perspectives, entitled “More veterans courts would help Texas”, follows:

More than 1.6 million veterans call our great state of Texas home.

All Texans share in the important responsibility of assisting our veterans in transitioning from military to everyday life. It’s a community-wide effort, and we need to be doing more. Our veterans deserve more.

Many veterans come home empowered by their time in the military, able to adjust with little to no assistance. For others, overcoming demons arising from their experiences in combat takes time and support.

Justice for Vets, a national organization committed to the expansion of veterans treatment programs, reports that, of the more than 2.4 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 460,000 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, and 345,000 suffer from an alcohol or drug addiction.

If treatment isn’t received, the consequences can be dire: unemployment, homelessness, criminal convictions and even suicide.

A downward spiral from war to jail should not be our veterans’ narrative.

Texas’ judicial branch is stepping up its efforts to ensure that our veterans’ futures are on a positive path.

The state’s first veterans court started in Harris County in 2009. Since then, 11 additional courts have opened their doors, with three more scheduled to come online next year (2014) in Williamson, Webb and Cameron counties. Their specialized dockets are dedicated to veterans in an effort to keep them out of our criminal justice system.

They operate first by identifying qualifying veterans following an arrest.

The most common offenses are DWI, assault, theft and domestic violence.

The courts, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and a team of prosecutors, defense attorneys and others then work together to create an intense treatment program that provides structure, support and accountability.

Veterans often are required to come to court before their judge every one or two weeks for a progress report in addition to their in-patient and out-patient treatment regimen.

If a veteran successfully completes the nine-month to two-year program, the charge is cleared from his or her record.

Veterans report that the programs restore their dignity, build their self-confidence and give them hope.

The low recidivism rate is evidence that veterans courts need to continue and expand.

Texas needs to continue to provide support and funding for these programs. Our communities would be well served by having more veterans courts.

The programs play a vital role, and I am proud the Texas judiciary is playing a critical role in bringing our men and women in uniform all the way home.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CARTER: SEXUAL ASSAULT UNDERMINES MILITARY’S VALUES

Sexual assaults and retaliation against people who report them undermine the military’s values of honor and trust, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday, April 3, in a message to the Defense Department’s workforce,

Here is the text of Carter’s message, provided by the U.S. Department of Defense:

This April, the Department of Defense observes Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

While we must spread awareness and prevent these crimes each and every day, this is an important opportunity to remind ourselves why ridding our ranks of sexual assault and sexual harassment is so critical.

The values of honor and trust are the lifeblood of our military, and every act of sexual assault directly undermines those values.

So, too, does every act of retaliation against those who report these crimes.

This year’s theme, “Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part.” reminds us that we all have a responsibility to prevent these crimes and support the survivors not only to live our core values and protect one another, but also to ensure our people can focus on the mission.

This is an issue our force, both of today and tomorrow, cares deeply about.

When I spoke at my high school earlier this week, a young student asked me about the issue of sexual assault and wanted to know what we were doing to ensure our military is “a safe and welcome place.”

That is why it is the responsibility of every service member to help make our military the last place a sexual offender wants to be.

Together, we must assure an environment where sexual assault is neither condoned nor ignored; we must reinforce a culture of prevention, accountability, dignity, and respect throughout our ranks; and we must advocate for and staunchly support all who courageously report this crime.

Our nation looks to us to lead boldly on this front and to care for our fellow men and women who bravely serve.

Every single one of us must know our part, do our part, and keep doing whatever it takes to eliminate sexual assault in the military.

••••••

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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