How Do Veterans Courts Work?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on November 11, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For many veterans, transitioning to civilian life can at times feel like an insurmountable challenge. While combating a slew of mental health issues, poverty, and substance abuse, a devastating number of veterans wind up in handcuffs.

Fortunately, Veterans Treatment Courts are coming to the rescue of countless vets who feel they are fighting an uphill battle against substance abuse, mental health issues, and a life of crime.

But what is a Veterans Treatment Court?

Veterans Treatment Court: Alternative Sentencing

The first Veterans Treatment Court opened in Buffalo, New York, back in 2008 after a judge witnessed young vets appear before him on criminal charges. Now, there are Veterans Treatment Courts in 27 states.

The veterans court model is based on drug treatment and mental health treatment courts. In general, veterans courts defer punishments, such as jail time, for misdemeanors as long as the defendants comply with programs to treat the underlying issues -- including substance abuse or mental health -- connected to their criminal misconduct.

In many states, it's still unclear whether veterans are eligible for the alternative sentencing structure when they are charged with felonies or violent crimes. The inclusion of offenders charged with domestic violence is of special concern to policymakers.

Addressing Drug and Mental Health Issues

The overarching goal of Veterans Treatment Courts is to prevent criminal conduct by holistically addressing the unqiue problems vets face when they return home from deployment.

Scores of veterans suffer post-traumatic stress, depression, and other mental infirmities following wartime service. This, in turn, prompts many veterans to "self-medicate" by abusing alcohol or drugs that can lead to arrests.

To combat these myriad issues, vets in the program receive support from Veterans Affairs and other community-based organizations and are subject to judicial monitoring. For example, North Carolina's newly-launched veterans court offers referrals to treatment, education and vocational programs, as well as community service opportunities to veterans, The Fayetteville Observer reports.

If you're a veteran looking for further assistance or information, the National Veterans Foundation has resources to help. If needed, you can also connect with an experienced criminal defense lawyer near you through our free online directory.

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