Brownwood State Farm agent Larry Pullin is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served in the Army and won two Purple Hearts before retiring as a staff sergeant in 1975. After graduating from Tarleton State, Pullin moved to Brownwood and began his business career. But he never forgot about his fellow servicemen and women, watching them return from successive wars with the same scars and traumas he knew well.
Most recently, Pullin has advocated for the creation of a Veterans Treatment Court in Brown County, a specialty court for retired military personnel that gives veterans access to the specific rehabilitation they need. Enlisting the help of locals like paralegal and Howard Payne graduate student David Morgan, Pullin won tentative approval for a Veterans Court from the Brown County Commissioners Court in February.
Pullin said there are two major concerns with Veterans Courts: that they will provide a “free pass” for criminal behavior, and the cost. “There’s a conception that they are getting a better deal, and that’s what we’d like to dispel,” Pullin said. “They are dedicating themselves to a much more severe regimen.
“The average person who gets a DWI has got to go see his probation officer and pee in a cup once a week … for six months, and show up at AA. That’s it. The woman or man who goes through [Veterans Court] has got to be dedicated,” he said.
Morgan said Veterans Court requirements involve an “intense” voluntary program. “The carrot at the end is that they may or may not get their charge dismissed,” Morgan said. “That’s based on the charge individually, and whether they’ve earned it through their actions. So this is not a blank check.”
Morgan said Veterans Courts are typically used for non-violent offenses on a case-by-case basis. He said the Brown County jail reported 84 arrested veterans last year — though Morgan suspects that number is actually much higher.
As far as cost, Morgan said all expenses for establishing a Veterans Court would be covered by organizations like Justice for Vets and the Department of Justice, costing the county nothing. “Actually, the county gets more money,” Morgan said.
Currently, there are about a dozen Veterans Courts in the state of Texas. Some serve more than one county as a regional court, which the Brown County court may consider.
Morgan said Veterans Courts are effective at keeping veterans from offending again. “The numbers really speak for themselves,” Morgan said. “It’s astounding how well they respond.” The recidivism rate for offenders who go through Veterans Court — Pullin said it’s about one in seven after seven years — is far lower than the general population’s.
“It’s restoration rather than incarceration,” Pullin said. “What we want to do is send the vet back to his family, to his kids and back to his job. But he doesn’t get any breaks.”
Pullin knows firsthand the unique needs of combat veterans. He still suffers from symptoms he attributes to Agent Orange exposure, and said many Iraq veterans were exposed to chemical weapons as well.
It’s difficult, Pullin said, to know what behaviors and symptoms can be attributed to harmful exposure or PTSD. But many veterans are reluctant to seek treatment on their own. “These guys are taking painkillers,” Pullin said. “They are abusing alcohol.”
Pullin hopes a Veterans Court can finally force those hurting veterans to seek help — before it’s too late. The veteran suicide rate, he said, is even higher than is typically reported.
In March, State Senator Dawn Buckingham presented a resolution at the capitol honoring Pullin for his advocacy. “In the years following his military retirement, Larry has been active in veterans’ affairs, and he continues to serve as a tireless proponent of veterans’ rights,” it reads. “Recently, he has been advocating for the implementation of a Veterans Treatment Court in Brown County, an endeavor that would expand specialized services to veterans who often do not seek out the help they need when they return home.”
The Commissioners Court is currently in the initial stages of researching the court.