Military Vet Nabs Fifth DWI, Chooses Jail Alternative

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Robert Jackson of Olathe, Kansas, faced a pivotal decision after his fifth drunk driving charge in 25 years: risk a jail sentence in court or opt for a diversion program designed to keep military veterans out of prison. Without hesitation, Jackson chose the latter, a path that could potentially clear the DUI from his record.

Jackson, a former U.S. Marine Corps member and a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, believed his military training had prepared him for the challenges of the diversion program. “I mean, it was intense. It was not a cake walk,” Jackson admitted.

The new Nebraska law, signed by Governor Jim Pillen in April, has been hailed as a pioneering model for veteran judicial diversion, making it the first state to adopt recommendations from the Veterans Justice Commission. This commission, co-chaired by former U.S. senator and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, aims to address the unique needs of veterans who encounter the criminal justice system.

Under this law, veterans charged with parole-eligible, nonviolent felonies can be ordered by any district judge to undergo treatment instead of facing prosecution, provided they demonstrate that a service-related condition contributed to their offense. The program leverages underutilized U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs resources to manage treatment, avoiding the strain on state programs.

Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, understands the profound challenges faced by veterans reintegrating into civilian life. “You know, something is wrong with that,” Hagel reflected on the high number of veterans in the criminal system. He attributes much of this to the trauma sustained from multiple combat deployments, particularly during the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A report last year by the commission revealed that up to one-third of the nation’s 19 million veterans have been arrested at least once. The report advocates for judicial diversion over incarceration, a recommendation that has prompted at least a dozen states to consider similar legislation.

Army Col. Jim Seward, director of the Veterans Justice Commission, noted, “We’re in discussions with numerous states across the country who are considering this legislation or preparing to consider it next year.” The commission plans to monitor the implementation of Nebraska’s law to refine and enhance the model.

Jackson’s own struggles with alcohol, which began during his military service, underscore the personal battles many veterans face. These meetings can make it easier to meet other vets, discuss the trauma of war, and begin establishing a routine that allows them to explore a healthier path for the future.