Veterans Treatment Courts Divert Troubled Vets from Path to Jail

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The crowded criminal justice system, at the local level, has been nearly overwhelmed with mentally ill and drug-addicted offenders who commit petty crimes. A number of experimental solutions have been tried in an effort to divert these people from prison to treatment. Veterans Treatment Courts are a way that men and women who served in the military can be offered treatment and rehabilitation as an alternative to jail time.

Veterans of the U.S. military make up a significant subset of the nation's population. As of September 2010, the Veterans' Administration estimates there were 22.7 million veterans. In 2007, 1.2 million vets were arrested for one reason or another. Many of them suffered from alcohol or drug abuse, or had mental health issues. Most of their offenses were minor.

The Drug Court concept that diverts addicts with minor offenses to treatment and rehabilitation has become the model for Veterans Treatment Courts. Buffalo, N.Y., created the first one in 2008 and now there are more than 70 nationally. The American Legion adopted a resolution supporting the program at its 2011 convention, which ended Sept. 1.

The National Clearinghouse for Veterans Treatment Courts describes the these courts as "hybrid Drug and Mental Health Courts that use the Drug Court model to serve veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental illness and/or co-occurring disorders. They promote sobriety, recovery and stability through a coordinated response that involves cooperation and collaboration with the traditional partners found in Drug and Mental Health Courts".

The Veterans' Administration is one of the key partners working with the various Veterans Courts. It has created the Veteran Justice Outreach Initiative to provide assistance to veterans that become involved with the criminal justice system.

The Veterans Treatment Courts go by a variety of names. In California, they are called Collaborative Justice Courts. For Georgians, there are the Accountability Courts. The concept is under fire from budget hawks. California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a measure calling for the expansion of the Veterans Court concept in the state in August due to its costs.

In a New York Times op-ed, Ronald Castille, chief justice on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, explained why Pennsylvania is pursuing the Veterans Court concept. The state has additionally created a group to resolve any issues that may arise between the VA and the court system's practices and procedures. Judge Castille closes his piece with this "Repaying America's debt to its veterans means giving them the opportunity to succeed in civilian life."

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