Suffolk County, NY - July 6, 2017 - Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today announced the first in the nation Suffolk County Veterans Traffic Court to help veterans lift or avoid driver license suspensions. Earlier this year, the County Executive directed the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency to establish a specialized Veterans Docket Day to assist veterans in rectifying any issues involving traffic violations pending before TPVA. While the vast majority of veterans’ criminal court traffic matters are a result of a suspended license, this new approach seeks to reduce the need for a veteran to appear before a criminal court and resolve their matters in a timely fashion.
“This program will serve as a statewide model for how veterans can avoid a lengthy court process and keep their drivers license intact,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone. “We have an obligation to resolve any outstanding issues for our brave servicemen and women on the front end before they lead to larger problems down the road.”
Veterans Docket Day provides the opportunity for honorably discharged or current veterans who have traffic, parking or red light camera citations pending before TPVA to participate in a special conference with a prosecutor. These conferences are held prior to the general public and will be provided a lengthier time to understand in greater detail the circumstances involving each case. Veterans will receive consideration based upon their military status, medical status, and their financial situation. This may include those dealing post-transition issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern said: "As Chairman of the Veterans Committee of the Suffolk County Legislature, and as the author of the ‘Housing Our Homeless Heroes’ Act, I applaud County Executive Bellone and the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency for this important 'first in the nation' initiative to assist our at-risk veterans. As our veterans return home, many from multiple deployments, it is vital that we ensure that something as simple as a traffic violation does not lead to unemployment, inability to pay child support and potential homelessness. It must continue to be our solemn obligation to protect those who protected all of us and this program is an important and effective way to provide assistance to our veterans and have a beneficial impact on public safety as well.”
Suffolk County Legislator Thomas F. Barraga said: “The Vehicle Traffic Court of Suffolk County is an innovative, progressive program that should be duplicated nationwide, designed to help those veterans who need assistance in resolving traffic violations.”
In addition to an expedited process and longer conference with a prosecutor, Veterans Docket Day will help facilitate a complete avenue of reform, understanding and assistance for veterans. There will also be support groups present on VDD to assist veterans in addressing other issues that they may want to resolve. The Agency anticipates a concerted effort with town, local and village Justice Courts in Suffolk and Nassau counties to establish open lines of communication in order to help Veterans find a complete and fair resolution.
The program differs from a veterans court within a criminal court venue, as the agency’s program will help resolve the initial infractions, which may be the underlying cause of a criminal charge. If a motorist is ticketed for an aggravated unlicensed operation of motor vehicle, the motorist is suspended due to unpaid or unanswered tickets, in many cases, those tickets are under the jurisdiction of the Agency and in the reaming cases, the tickets are most likely under the jurisdiction of the town, local and village justice court.
Veterans Docket Day is held at the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency in Hauppauge on the third Friday of the every month at 2:00 P.M. The program may include, but is not limited to, the following considerations:
Veterans will be conferenced before the general public.
Prosecutors will give Veterans more comprehensive conference, including time to discuss the causation of all events that led them to the agency.
Assessment of consequences/penalties based upon ability to pay fines and offering alternatives to fines.
Consideration on red light camera citations and parking fines.
Assistance in regaining their license to drive expeditiously; attempt to remove any barriers associated with the agency to licensing.
Provide DMV forms as necessary to assist with matters such as the reapplication for a drivers’ license.
Thomas Ronayne, Director of the Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency, said: "This court represents another innovative way that Suffolk County serves our veterans. By assisting veterans with traffic and parking violations matters we will actually be providing support far beyond that courtroom as it should be.”
Ken Rosenblum, Associate Dean and Director of Touro Law Center Veterans’ & Servicemembers’ Rights Clinic (Retired) said: "You can tell the character of a community, local or national, by how it treats its veterans. In the past, particularly with our Vietnam vets, our nation has fallen short of the mark. But Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Traffic and Parking Violations Agency Executive Director Paul Margiotta, Veterans Service Agency Director Tom Ronayne and the entire Suffolk team have stepped up big time with this program that addresses the critical needs of our vets, particular those less fortunate, and assures that their issues and concerns will be addressed with the patience, dignity and compassion they have earned by their service and sacrifice. The Suffolk program is a model for the nation."
Many veterans – including those who have recently returned from service overseas – are confronted with steep monetary fines that have accumulated over time due to prior traffic violations. As a result, veterans are placed in a difficult position between having to pay costly fines without the necessary resources or risk losing their New York State Drivers License. Veterans also may unknowingly be driving with a suspended drivers license or have incurred traffic violations due to post-transition issues stemming from their military service.
There are numerous reasons that veterans tend to accrue more traffic violations than the general population. Many of the same instincts and specialized training that kept service members alive overseas can become dangerous habits back here at home. Defensive driving courses across the country teach drivers to scan roadways and attempt to predict the actions of other drivers. However, many veterans – especially those with PTSD – similarly scan but have been trained to watch for certain types of vehicles that may indicate a danger on the battlefield. Veteran drivers also may habitually scrutinize overpasses and bridges for signs of an ambush and can remain wary of slow-moving vehicles, which could mean trouble or simply impede a swift departure.
The Veterans Traffic Court has selected Presiding Judge Allen S. Mathers, a fellow veteran, to overseethese cases. Mathers, a Captain in the Coast Guard and retired National Guardsman, has provided legal assistance to members of every military service branch and has served as a Referee on the District and Supreme Court levels for more than 25 years.
Implementation of this program comes at no additional cost to the taxpayer but does have significant public benefits. Once a veteran’s driving privileges are restored, more opportunities to find gainful employment are available - thus adding to thelocal tax base.
For more information on Veterans Docket Day, contact Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency at www.suffolkcountyny.gov or by phone at (631) 853-3930.