If it were not for the brain and back injuries he suffered in Iraq, Travis Bentley might have never become addicted to pain medication. If it were not for that addiction, he would have never found himself facing significant prison time for robbing pharmacies.

And if it weren’t for the Veterans Treatment Court, the decorated former Marine sergeant might have been lost forever to the cycle of abuse and incarceration. Instead, Bentley is 2½ years clean and on the verge of earning a college degree.

Stories like Bentley’s are what demonstrate the worth of Maine’s Veterans Treatment Court, run out of Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta. It helps veterans who never would have been in trouble had they not served their country get the help they need.

But officials should move carefully when expanding the still-new program. It’s not clear how many people in Maine’s criminal justice system could take advantage of an expanded veterans court, or if such a court would flourish elsewhere as it has in Augusta.

The veterans court, launched in 2012, allows participants without a prior criminal history to avoid lengthy prison terms if they adhere to the strict treatment, counseling and reporting requirements.

But it is not an easy way out. The program is rigorous, and it doesn’t completely absolve the participants. Bentley, for instance, was sentenced to four years in jail, with all but 85 days suspended, and three years’ probation, after he graduated last September along with Dan Andrews, another Iraq veteran.


So far, 20 veterans have been accepted into the program. In addition to the two graduates, two participants have died and one was expelled. The remaining 15 candidates are active, and there are 10 open spots. Those openings may suggest that some candidates for the program are being missed.

That is the reasoning behind L.D. 1697, which would expand the veterans program to all 16 Superior Courts in the state, at a cost of $1.16 million.

But as the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, has said, such a comprehensive approach is not necessary, nor is it financially feasible. Instead, she wants lawmakers to determine how many new sites the state needs, and where to put them, so that distance doesn’t keep anyone from taking part.

That discussion also should include whether any more sites are needed at all. It may be that there are simply not enough veterans committing crimes to warrant the expansion of the program to other sites. In that case, the state would do better to direct its resources to supporting the program in Augusta, near the federal services provided through Togus.

In either case, Maine has to make sure that the veterans who can benefit find their way to the special court, and that the court offers all the support it can.

It is the right thing to do financially, considering the state pays more than $50,000 a year to house an inmate, as opposed to $10,000 or so a year for a person in the veterans court.

It is also the right thing to do morally, for the veterans struggling with substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Too often, they go untreated, and sometimes an otherwise worthy person does something far out of character.

It would be preferable to reach these veterans before they commit a crime, with improved mental health screening and counseling services.

But the cracks in the system are wide, and the veterans court is an acknowledgment that the system has failed veterans once, but will not again.

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