I was devastated to read in the newspaper this week that a U.S. Army Ranger was shot and killed — not in Afghanistan where he served his country, but here, in his home state of Maine.

Justin Crowley-Smilek suffered from post-traumatic stress from his wartime experiences. He had been to court the day before his death. That was our opportunity to help him. We failed.

It is because of Justin Crowley-Smilek and others like him that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud asked me to introduce legislation to establish veteran courts here in Maine — courts that treat veterans as heroes who need help instead of as criminals.

In Maine, one in six adults are military veterans, the highest per capita population in the nation.

Studies have shown that combat service often exacts a tremendous psychological toll on members of the military who are faced with the constant threat of death or injury while overseas for an extended period of time.

Research has shown that a significant number of military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety and acute stress.

These combat-related injuries, plus the use of drugs and alcohol to cope with such injuries, can lead to encounters with the criminal justice system that would not have otherwise occurred.

While the vast majority of returning members of the military do not have contact with the criminal justice system and are well-adjusted, contributing members of society, psychiatrists and law enforcement officials agree that combat-related injuries have led to instances of criminality.

As a grateful state, we must continue to honor military service members by providing them with an alternative to incarceration: proper treatment for mental health and substance abuse problems resulting from military service.

The establishment of veterans’ treatment courts will address the unique challenges veterans face as a result of their honorable service.

How will veterans’ treatment courts work? They can work in conjunction with existing drug courts and the co-occurring disorders court. To be a true veterans’ treatment court, it is necessary that one day of the court’s docket be dedicated to veterans. By having a day dedicated to veterans, it is possible for Togus to send a veterans’ health administrator to attend the court.

Veterans qualify for many federal services that most of them never receive. Having the veterans’ health administrator in court with the veterans facilitates their signing up for assistance.

In addition, volunteer veteran mentors also attend veterans’ court sessions. These mentors have lived through what others have only read about and are able to connect with the veterans, listen to them and offer advice. Knowing that someone still cares about what happens to you even after you have committed a crime is very important.

Finally, and maybe most important of all, veterans attending the veterans’ treatment court will be saluted when they walk into the courtroom. They will be reminded that while they have made some mistakes, we still see them as heroes. And, yes, it will be their choice as to whether or not their case is transferred to the veterans’ treatment court.

None of this means that a veteran can commit a crime and not be held accountable. Like all those who attend the drug courts and co-occurring disorders court, veterans will be held accountable through treatment, community service and fines. Those not completing the program will be incarcerated.

A veterans’ treatment court is not a “get out of jail free” card. But it is a second chance.

The first veterans’ treatment court in the country was established in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008. Incredibly, that court has a zero percent recidivism rate. Reminding veterans that they are heroes and giving them the help they need really works.

With passage of this legislation, all involved in the veterans’ treatment court can attend free national training twice a year. Matt Stiner, director of development and outreach for veterans’ treatment courts, says passage of this legislation will also enable Maine to qualify for federal grants.

This is not a Democratic versus Republican bill. This is a bipartisan veterans’ bill, and we owe it to our veterans to pass this legislation quickly.

In the future, those like Justin Crowley-Smilek will ideally get the support they need — and have earned — from the state of Maine.

State Rep. Maeghan Maloney, D-Augusta, represents District 57.