The program — the only one in the country, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs — operates on the same principles of temperate justice and guided rehabilitation that govern "drug courts" and "mental-health courts," which have been strikingly successful around the country in reducing crime, saving money and repairing lives.
Buffalo's experiment, profiled in USA Today, began after a city court judge, Robert Russell, and his office noticed more veterans, many with drug and psychiatric problems, coming through the system. It offers defendants a chance to stay out of jail or avoid more serious charges in return for entering addiction or mental health treatment and taking other steps to right their lives.
The court also puts the sturdy bonds of military service to good use. It enlists other veterans as volunteer mentors to help overcome participants' resistance to treatment and "to point them in the right direction," as one mentor told the newspaper.
Other cities would do well to study and learn from Buffalo's experiment, and the federal government should do more to help, with grants for programs that direct troubled people out of the prison stream and into life-saving treatment. The effectiveness of alternative-sentencing programs is no longer in question, and the nation's responsibility to its veterans and their families is undeniable.
For soldiers, mental trauma and debilitating stress are part of the job description. When former soldiers go astray, they deserve all the creativity and support the system can muster to get them back where they began: clean, sober and on the right the side of the law.