One Court For All: Except If You Are A Veteran With Problems

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Once again Larry Scott, of VA Watchdog dot Org, has brought to our attention an article (Rick Rogers, San Diego Union-Tribune) that helps us better understand a growing issue. Should there be a 'special' court that deals with veterans with certain problems. As a veterans advocate my initial reaction is it sounds like a good idea. Perhaps, just perhaps, my initial opinion needs to be re-visited when considering: Are veterans' courts on target or special treatment?

Veteran What

There's one in Santa Ana. And in Anchorage, Alaska; Buffalo, N.Y.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Phoenix; Santa Clara; and Tulsa, Okla. One is coming to Pittsburgh.

These places have or will have courts designed for criminal defendants who are military veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and/or substance-abuse problems. The goal of these courts is to rehabilitate the veterans not by putting them in jail but by providing aggressive case management, which often includes closely monitored medical treatment, counseling and permanent housing.

The Debate

Debate over the concept is happening across the nation, including in Sacramento, where Assemblywoman Mary Salas, D-Chula Vista, introduced a bill this year to establish veterans courts statewide. Her legislation sparked such intense controversy that she quickly pulled it from consideration. Two years of negotiations have not produced a veterans court in San Diego County, which is home to about 250,000 veterans.

Supporters of the courts say they are an effective, humane and appropriately customized way of combating the revolving door of crime and punishment that some veterans experience. Critics say veterans shouldn't get special treatment and that judges in the court system are already equipped to deal with veterans' distinct circumstances.

Steve Binder, an attorney in the San Diego County Public Defender's Office, said former service members do elicit special understanding from judges and prosecutors. But one thorny issue in trying to establish a court here has been whether certain criminal behavior can be adequately addressed without time behind bars. There is a legitimate concern about public safety where veterans are driving 100 mph or are engaged in violent offenses and harming other people, Binder said. We'd like to see a court that recognizes that veterans provided for our safety and that now our treatment services can provide for their safety, he said. We don't want to lose another generation to the prison system, like we lost the Vietnam veterans.

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt