Guest Author - Jeff Valentine
The city of Buffalo, New York saw so many Veterans in its courtrooms last year that it has taken a drastic new approach to criminal proceedings for Veterans in city court.
Under Judge Robert Russell, the Buffalo City Court has created a Veterans Treatment Court specifically for Military Veterans who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. This new court isn't for hardcore violent crimes or offenders.
The Vet Court hears testimony on men and women accused of lesser crimes to include stealing, vagrancy, minor drug offenses, in addition to other non-violent felonies and misdemeanor offenses.
The Veterans Treatment Court is the first such program in this country and exists for one reason: To help Veterans having trouble adjusting to civilian life make their current problems with the law their last.
The courtroom is designed to be a therapeutic environment where Veterans, veteran volunteers, and veteran’s advocates, in addition to the judge, understand where these misguided Vets are coming from.
Rather than immediately '"throwing the book" at these Vets, they are "highly encouraged" to complete a 1 to 2 year court ordered plan to battle their ongoing transitional issues. Mandatory counseling includes a combination of anger management, depression, alcohol and/or drug abuse, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) counseling depending upon the Veterans needs.
Completing the program could help the Veteran stay out of jail and may even see the original criminal charges fully dismissed. Provided that the Veteran continues to stay out of trouble and get the counseling help that they need, the Veterans Treatment Court sounds like a win-win for all involved.
Despite what some naysayers may think, the Veterans Treatment Court is not a free pass to get out of jail. Each Veteran must work hard to overcome their situation; the Court itself provides the understanding of what it entails to be a Military Veteran. This allows Veteran specific treatment of their problems to take place.
Some Highlights to the Veterans Treatment Court:
-Each Veteran is assigned a mentor/volunteer who is a veteran.
-Each Vet is assigned a public defender that expects them to be an active participant when standing in front of the judge.
-Each court session has a VA counseling representative who can instantly access records to get Vets the appointments that they require.
Buffalo’s Veterans Treatment Court may become the example for courts around the country. Nearly 2 million+ Veterans have come back from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A percentage of these Veterans will find themselves making poor choices in regard to the laws of this country. Veteran Treatment Courts throughout our nation could be another weapon in the arsenal for helping Veterans to become productive citizens of our country once again.
They deserve a chance, don’t they?
This article is OVER but not OUT - - - Feel free to continue the conversation by contributing to the VETERANS forum at BellaOnline, or by emailing the Veterans Editor with your thoughts.