Las Vegas Sun

January 29, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Special courts for veterans

They steer troubled veterans toward the rehabilitation services they need

It has taken a long time, but fortunately special courts are now beginning to open around the country for military veterans whose troubles with the law are possibly linked to service-related drug, alcohol or mental health issues.

As Las Vegas Sun reporter Megan McCloskey wrote in Thursday’s paper, a Veterans Treatment Court will open in the fall if the District Court’s application for a $250,000 federal grant is approved.

Momentum for veterans courts picked up in 2006, according to USA Today, when a judge in Rochester, N.Y., began having a Veterans Affairs representative present when veterans appeared in his drug court. That same year California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that gives judges discretion to give veterans alternative sentences in some cases.

The first full-fledged Veterans Treatment Court began early last year by the city court in Buffalo, N.Y. Its goal is to keep veterans who are nonviolent offenders out of jail.

McCloskey reported that Buffalo’s model has since been adopted in Anchorage, Alaska; Orange County, Calif.; Rochester, N.Y., and Tulsa, Okla. She also reported that 20 other court systems around the country are considering the idea.

All veterans have gone through training that prepared them for combat and for the disciplined culture of the military. For some, just that alone made their return to civilian life difficult. And what veterans who go through combat witness and experience can make them even more susceptible to difficulties.

This service to our country needs to be recognized if later their unresolved stress contributes to landing them in court.

Once before a judge, veterans are evaluated and offered treatment programs that can last for a year. Only if they fail to complete the programs are they given traditional sentences. To help them pull through, fellow veterans from the community act as their mentors. The courts under way are experiencing a high level of success.

Our hope is that if the federal funding is not awarded, enough local money can be found to start such a court.

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