Ex-Marine Samuel Betancourt, a veteran of battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, came home with the demons of war haunting his mind.”I started getting flashbacks,” Betancourt said. “I started having dreams about combat.”He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But instead of getting treatment, Betancourt started getting high on marijuana and methamphetamines.
After his fourth arrest in Dinuba on drug charges, Betancourt, 27, was facing six years in state prison.”I thought that was a little extreme,” said Betancourt, who now lives in Visalia. “I thought I’d better get a lawyer.”His attorney directed him to the new Veterans Court in Tulare County Superior Cour (CA), a 5-month-old program exclusively for combat veterans who run afoul of the law.
Instead of being locked up, Betancourt was enrolled in an 18-month mental health treatment program approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.Some civil liberties advocates are concerned about creating a double standard. But in light of their sacrifices, veterans are entitled to special judicial consideration, officials said. “These are people who have served their country and as a result have received mental or physical injuries,” said Tulare County Assistant District Attorney Don Gallian, who oversees the program and is himself a veteran. “We want to pay back a little bit for what they did for us”.