The Santa Barbara County Probation Department has been awarded $975,000 in grant over the course of the next three years, which will go toward expanding and enhancing treatment programs for military veterans in Santa Barbara. 

The grant, which comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), allows the department to expand and enhance the county's Veterans Treatment Court (VTC). VTC is a joint initiative among justice partners, community-based treatment providers and veterans' service organizations. 

The program specializes in the treatment of military veterans who became involved in the criminal justice system. The Veterans Treatment Courts are a response to the growing trend of veterans facing criminal charges stemming from substance abuse and/or mental illness. 

According to Justice For Vets, one in six Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer with a substance use disorder. Additionally, 50 percent of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), do not receive the treatment they need. The effects resulting from the lack of necessary care have been shown to lead to depression, joblessness and homelessness. While other courts have served veteran populations, research has also shown that traditional services don't always adequately meet the needs of the population.

"Receiving this grant provides an enormous opportunity for veterans who are in the criminal justice system," said Assistant Presiding Judge Michael J. Carrozzo. "I'd like to recognize and thank the numerous members of the VTC team, both past and present, who have worked tirelessly for years to increase the capabilities of the programs available to veterans in the Santa Barbara courts."

Carrozzo added, "The Santa Barbara VTC was established in 2012 by Judge George Eskin (since retired), in order to provide treatment to veterans rather than incarceration. The goal of VTC over the years has been to protect the community while supporting veterans." 

The grant will facilitate operational enhancement and partnership between the Probation Department, Santa Barbara County Superior Court and a consortium of community-based organizations, which includes Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, New Beginnings Counseling Center and Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, in collaboration with local city, county and federal veterans' organizations and UCSB. 

The program will divert veteran offenders to a specialized court docket that will offer specific, targeted resources and provide participants with the opportunity to establish clean and sober lifestyles, reduce criminality and psychiatric episodes and improve the quality of their lives.

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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