Veterans Court

On Veteran’s Day last week, the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times suggesting that a special court for veterans, modeled on drug courts, should be adoped across the country.  It sounds like a wonderful and compassionate idea. 

Justice Castile, himself a veteran, described the program started in Erie three years ago.  

Here’s how it works. Veterans typically charged with nonviolent crimes and suffering from substance dependency, mental health problems or both are placed in a special docket. After an initial screening and assessment by the court, they are offered a place in a treatment program geared to veterans instead of standing trial.

Compliance is monitored through regularly scheduled court hearings, during which participants can be sanctioned for noncompliance or rewarded for their success.

Because the courts are reserved for veterans, they serve as a recognition of past service and an effective way to reawaken the service members’ pride, discipline and courage — critical elements in helping many resolve their problems. It helps, too, that the veterans are in the program with one another, fostering a sense of camaraderie.

Moreover, the courts assign volunteer mentors to support the participants, and both the Department of Veterans Affairs and community-based organizations are available to provide treatment after the assessments.

As a result, 90 percent of participants complete the program, without a single case of recidivism. Judge Russell’s initiative has been copied by courts across the country, including in California, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

There is no reason that creative dispute system design cannot be used to help those who have served us.  As Justice Castile wrote, “Repaying America’s debt to its veterans means giving them the opportunity to succeed in civilian life. Veterans courts are a pragmatic way we can repay that debt and save veterans from additional suffering.”

4 thoughts on “Veterans Court”

  1. This is a tremendous program, and I hope more states copy it. The fact that our government lets some veterans fall through the cracks of society is unconscionable.

    However, I have two concerns with the screening process for who gets into veterans courts.

    First, why does Justice Castile recommend limiting it to “veterans . . . charged with nonviolent crimes”? While offenders of severe violent crime (rape, murder) should not go through a veterans court, there is an argument to be made for including veterans guilty of assault or battery. Those offenders of simple assault would really benefit from the special clinical treatment and moral support from the veterans court.

    In addition, I wonder how narrowly “mental health” is defined. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be difficult to diagnose as it seems the symptoms can vary and the veterans are not always completely upfront about their illness.

    If not carefully defined, both of these factors could tragically limit access to the veterans court.

  2. I completely support this program of dispute resolution, and I am proud that Wisconsin supports the veterans court program. If veterans get in trouble with the law for reasons related to their experiences while serving our country, such veterans deserve a different system, one that helps them deal with the aftermath of war. I think these courts send a message acknowledging the difficultly veterans face upon returning from a tour, not just dealing with the mental trauma of war, but readjusting to a non-combative society. Given that these men and women are putting their lives on the line to protect our country, this program is the very least the legal system can do to repay veterans for their service and sacrifice.

  3. I believe that a creative dispute system could certainly help our veterans. It seems that many of the veterans returning from service are looking for something more than what most modern courts can offer. That is to say veterans are often in need of emotional counseling or some other remedy that is not monetary in nature. As we’ve learned this semester, one of the major advantages of ADR is the opportunity to obtain “creative” remedies. Accordingly, this system could provide veterans with a number of non-legal remedies such as emotional support, further recognition for services, required medical treatment, etc., so long as it did not adopt a “traditional litigation” court model.

    I’m not sure, however, that I support the idea of modeling the system off of “drug courts.” It seems to me that while drug addiction may be a very common issue among veterans, it’s certainly not the only major issue. I think exploring the different methods of ADR and pulling a little bit from each process area is a more appropriate step to take. It’s important to explore different alternatives so that any veteran court which is developed is done so appropriately. Engaging in short-hand adopting measures that may fit some aspects of the goal, but lose sight of others, is probably not the best approach to take, albeit better than taking no approach at all.

    As Lindsay commented, I too am glad that Wisconsin supports this program. I hope that those involved in the development of this system draw on all aspects of our modern dispute system (both in court and in ADR) as this system continues to grow in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.