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Mental Health Initiatives for Veterans, Bexar and Travis Counties

The Bexar County Courts have recently implemented a program to aid those defendants who are competent to stand trial, but suffer from mental illness to the degree that it impairs their ability to function in day-to-day life.  The Mental Health Advocacy Initiative provides services to defendants in conjunction with the Bexar County Court system.  Judge Michael Mery of County Court 12 oversees the program.  The County’s website gives the following description of the program:

“In December 2008 the Bexar County Commissioner’s Court authorized the formation of the Mental Health Advocacy Initiative within the Department of Community Investment. The targeted population is non-violent, mentally ill inmates who have had more than one incarceration in the last 12 months and mentally ill inmates who cannot participate in their own defense. The division’s goals are to identify mental illness in inmates, ensure that these inmates are put in contact with services before leaving the Adult Detention Center, provide case management for one year in order to reduce recidivism and to support the development of Competency Restoration in Bexar County.

The initiative will focus on three areas.

Individual treatment plans
Access to support and treatment services
Reduce the likelihood that inmates will commit crime again, returning to incarceration

The end result will be targeted to decrease the criminalization of mentally ill individuals.”

Setting aside for a moment the problem of adjudicating individuals who “cannot participate in their own defense,” and the friction that would cause with Texas competency statues, the initiative is off to a strong start.  The staff is professional and caring, and the Court is functioning as designed.  The Initiative is taking particular pains to cater to the growing population of military veterans in need of mental health care.  The VA Hospitals in the area are doing what they can, and the Initiative looks to fill in the gaps.  As noted in the San Antonio Express-News story linked above, the serviced population of veterans in getting younger and younger.  It can be argued that the relative youth of the serviced population makes it a little more likely that the criminal courts would become involved in the lives of the patients.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Travis County is now looking to help the Veterans of Austin with a similar program, specifically tailored to the mental health needs of veterans.   The story notes that Harris County and Tarrant County are starting similar programs.  The blog Grits for Breakfast has a full treatment of the issue.

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