Veterans Treatment Courts a Better Way to Assist Veterans in the Criminal Justice System

As more and more soldiers return from war, they are struggling in many ways. As a country, we have in so many ways failed our veterans who have served us so nobly. We have not provided the support that they need to deal with the physical, emotional, and financial struggles that have resulted from their service.

As a result of the lack of support that veterans often receive when they return home from service, there are some veterans who are finding themselves facing criminal charges, many times involving substance abuse or assaultive crimes. I frequently see veterans who are struggling with issues such as post traumatic stress disorder as a result of their service, using alcohol or drugs to cope with their feelings, or reacting poorly in confrontational situations.

It seems incredibly unfair to ask these young men and women to go to war for our country, and then simply throw them away, labeling them as “criminals” when they return home with difficulties that have resulted from their service to our country. Thankfully, Michigan courts are beginning to recognize that veterans need to be given special attention when they come into the criminal justice system. A number of courts, including those for Ionia, Genesee, Muskegon, Bay, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Antrim, Macomb, Wayne, Ingham, Washtenaw, and Oakland counties have created Veterans Treatment Courts.

Veterans Treatment Courts are a hybrid of two other specialty courts, Drug Court and Mental Health Court. The Veterans Court is designed to promote sobriety, recovery, and stability among veterans who have been charged with a crime. It provides veterans with access to treatment for substance abuse issues, mental health issues, and also assists them with other needs, working with volunteer mentors and agencies who assist veterans and veteran’s families.

One of the practical benefits of participation in a “specialty court” is that while participants are generally on probation to the court as a result of a crime, the probationary period is truly designed to promote recovery as opposed to being punitive. The culture among the specialty court teams, comprised of lawyers, judges, probation officers, and other professionals, is one of providing support and assistance to its participants, rather than looking for something that the probationer has done wrong.

Those who are able to participate in a specialty court often have more success on probation and after completion than those who commit crimes and don’t have the support that a specialty court provides. While I’m sure that most who participate in Veterans Courts around the state would agree that they could do even more with additional funding, the fact is that they are better funded that regular probation departments. They have greater access to resources and, quite frankly, a better attitude toward the veteran defendants who they serve. When the program is designed to treat, rather than punish, the success of the individuals in the program increases significantly.

While there are only a handful of counties in Michigan who have operating Veterans Treatment Courts, veterans or current members of the military who are charged with crimes may be eligible to transfer their probation to another county that operates a veterans court.

If you are a veteran in the state of Michigan charged with a crime, contact Blanchard Law at (616) 773-2945 to discuss defending your case.

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