Few people have ever heard of veterans treatment courts, but they do indeed exist. In fact, this unique network of courts has been growing, with new additions showing up every year. For example, one was opened in Manhattan in 2016 to prosecute and find treatment for addicted or mentally ill veterans. If you’d like to understand these courts, their function, and how it all works, here is a quick primer that will explain that in the simplest of terms.
Veterans Treatment Courts are a system of courts that have been created to help veterans who suffer from mental health issues or PTSD. The system was developed as an alternative to the United States criminal justice system. The need for separate courts came from the understanding that military veterans had particular needs that would not be met within the traditional prison system. What these veterans need is help in the form of mental health treatment. Therefore, the Center for Mental Health Service created these courts, which are only ever used for veterans who have been discharged from service. The courts also usually partner with community branches of veteran’s organizations and the local V.A.
The courts were created in 2008 based on a meeting that included a variety of officials from community groups, federal agencies, veteran’s health and advocacy groups, law enforcement, and, of course, the military. This group, led by the Center for Mental Health Service, created the court system based on the drug and mental health courts that the US government had created in the 1990s. The courts began with just one in 2008, but by 2010, there are over 40; there are now over 60 in the United States, all of which cater to veteran defendants. The courts are created based on need, and therefore, continue to be added to the system as needed.
The primary function of veterans treatment courts is to ensure the just and proper treatment of veterans who are battling addiction or mental health issues. Because it is a specialized court, the punishments vary accordingly; most punishments include treatment, housing, and training to help these veterans find employment. Jail time is rarely given; the only exception is when a veteran violates the terms of their court orders. Another function is to mentor veterans through their issues to help them readjust to civilian life. Many courts do this by requiring veterans to pair with a mentor, who is nearly always another veteran who has applied for that position. It is currently noted that 90 percent of all veterans who encounter this court do not re-offend.
How it Works
The court works quite simply: if a veteran is arrested for a felony and identifies themselves as a Veteran, their eligibility for processing through this particular court is assessed. Only veterans who have committed nonviolent crimes and are in need of addiction or mental health treatment are eligible. Once they have accepted processing through the court, the court will decide what treatments are best for that veteran. Most treatments are administered by the VA network. The veteran then goes through the programs prescribed to them, and if they follow the treatment to its completion, they may see their charges reduced or dismissed entirely.
Veterans have done a great service to this country; their service should not be discounted when entering into the criminal justice system. With the help of the government and the VA, these individuals will have a second chance to adjust to civilian life. This short primer on veterans treatment courts will help any private citizen or military family member understand this system better, and if they ever encounter a situation where it’s necessary, they can see it as a game changer.