Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans' Courts

A story in the Boston Globe about Creating a Special Court for Veterans caught my attention this Veterans' Day.  Suffolk County, (Boston's County), is following the lead of Norfolk County, where I live.  The Veterans' Court in Norfolk County is described as a cross between a court and an AA meeting, where all the veterans come and participate in the hearings for each other, offering comments and encouragement. 
“It’s fascinating to watch,” [Bill] Sinnott [a former Marine and corporate counsel for the city of Boston] said, especially when the veterans report the progress they have made. The fellow veterans in the courtroom will often share words of encouragement, he said. “They’ll say, ‘Great job, John. Atta boy, John.’ ”
The idea began in Buffalo, NY in 2008, and has since spread to 104 Veterans' Courts around the Country. There is a great website and organization, Justice for which provides support and assistance to cities and counties wishing to explore setting up such courts. At What is a Veterans Treatment Court, the website explains the rationale for establishing a veterans-only docket:

Veterans Treatment Courts allow jurisdictions to serve a large segment of the justice-involved veteran population as opposed to business as usual – having all veterans appear before random judges who may or may not have an understanding of their unique problems.  Because a Veterans Treatment Court judge handles numerous veterans' cases and is supported by a strong, interdisciplinary team, he or she is in a much better position to exercise discretion and effectively respond than a judge who only occasionally hears a case involving a veteran defendant.  A Veterans Treatment Court judge better understands the issues that a veteran may be struggling with, such as substance addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and military sexual trauma.  A Veterans Treatment Court judge is also more familiar with the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Administration, State Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Service Organizations, and volunteer Veteran Mentors and how they all can assist veteran defendants.

There is much more there, including links to an annual conference (Dec. 2-5, 2013 in Washington, DC), resources, including information about state legislation, and information on the beneficial impact of such courts.  

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