Veterans’ Courts: Giving Injured Vets a 2nd Chance

Veteran Courts

By Debbie Gregory.

Many Military Veterans have had life experiences that are much different from their civilian contemporaries. Depending on when and where they served, Veterans may have experienced a vast array of physical, emotional and psychological injuries. Physical wounds can leave Veterans with scars, which are visible reminders of where they were hurt. But emotional and psychological wounds usually aren’t as noticeable. For Veterans, these wounds scar just the same. Untreated, unhealed emotional and psychological injuries lead to further Veteran illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression. These illnesses can lead to substance abuse, the commission of crimes, and even suicide.

Knowing that for some Veterans, their criminal behavior could be linked to their military service, 27 states have begun to implement Veterans’ Courts into their legal systems.

The first Veterans’ Court in the U.S. was established in 2008 in Buffalo, New York. Veterans’ Courts are modeled after Drug and Mental Health Courts, in that they promote sobriety, recovery and stability through strict court appointed measures that differ from jail time.

Most Veterans’ Courts utilize a nearby VA medical facility to conduct individual and group therapy meetings for Veterans enrolled in the program. The facilities are also used to constantly screen participants for drug and alcohol use. Combined with therapy, Veteran participants are also assigned to local probation officers who conduct additional screenings and ensure that standards are being met.

Every court has different standards for eligibility. But in general, applicants must be a Veteran of the U.S. military; the charges against the Veteran must be linked to their military service; and the applicant must be accepted by the individual Veterans’ Court Judge. In most cases, the committing of violent crimes, including  murder, manslaughter, rape and gang-related crimes will disqualify an applicant from Veterans’ Courts.

The State of California has 10 Veterans’ Courts. The Veterans’ Court in Ventura County was launched by the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation (GCVF)through a grant from the Martin V. and Martha K. Smith Foundation. We are proud that CEO Debbie Gregory is an officer and board member for  GCVF. The Ventura Veterans’ Court is presided over by Judge Colleen “Toy” White, who has been a staunch supporter of the program from the beginning.

A significant amount of crimes committed by Veterans can be directly linked to emotional and psychological injuries that they sustained while serving their country. Instead of locking these emotionally scarred Veterans away in jail, they should be given the chance to heal. There are Veterans’ Courts all over the country giving Veterans the chance that they deserve.