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What is Veterans Court?

Many of our country’s veterans face unique and extremely difficult challenges as they attempt to re-enter and reintegrate into civilian life, following their discharge from active-duty service. Extended periods of separation from family, friends, and loved ones can cause great strain on personal relationships. Service-members also face harsh economic strains due to the comparatively low financial compensation for their service. Military service also carries the risk of severe injury or death for the service member. Experiencing such challenges and difficulties, may lead to substance use and combat-related mental illness that can have lasting effects for the service-member as he or she re-enters civilian life.

Some studies suggest that approximately half of our veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are afflicted with a myriad of conditions, many of which are treatable, including substance abuse disorders; cognitive impairment or a mental health disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder; and increased propensity for accidental overdoses of opioid pain medications. Further, many veterans nationwide are homeless and face difficulty obtaining gainful employment, as “victims” of a criminal justice system ill-equipped to address their significant needs.

Veterans Treatment Courts have been established in many states across the country, including Pennsylvania, to address these critical needs of veterans, who have, unfortunately, found themselves, moving through a revolving door, repeatedly entering and exiting the court and prison system. Veteran court systems are a multi-agency collaboration, typically including the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Court of Common Pleas, the County Correctional Facility, the Adult Probation Office, the County Department of Veterans Affairs, and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These programs are designed to connect veterans with appropriate treatment services and supports, to provide a fair and comprehensive disposition of their criminal charges.

Offenders are held accountable through rigorous monitoring and judicial supervision and data is collected to determine the effectiveness of court operations and ensure continuous program improvement. The Veterans Treatment Court model requires regular appearances in court; mandatory treatment sessions; and frequent drug testing. The veteran voluntarily agrees to participate in a judicially supervised treatment plan, between 12 to 24 months, developed by a team of court staff, attorneys, veteran health care professionals, veteran peer mentors, drug and alcohol health professionals and mental health professionals.

During frequent status hearings, plans for treatment and other supervision conditions are reviewed for efficacy and suitability. The programs often are incentive-based, wherein participants are rewarded with special privileges for adherence to the conditions of their supervision. Similarly, sanctions for non-adherence are imposed, such as assignment of written essays, loss of privileges, demotion in the program levels (phases), fines, curfews, and even termination from the program. Completion of the program is determined by satisfying specific criteria established by the court team members.

If you are facing a criminal charge and are a former member of the Armed Forces, you should speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney to determine the potential consequences regarding your pending criminal charge. When you meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney, you should discuss your mental health and/or substance-use issues. There may be options for you to explore regarding the Veterans Court program. Contact the criminal defense lawyers at Tanner Law Offices. Our team of skilled professionals is prepared to defend you through this challenging time and ensure your rights are fully protected. Please contact our office at 717-731-8114 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.