Veteran’s Court

Veteran's Court

The first veteran’s court opened in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2008. The veteran’s court model is based on drug treatment and/or mental health treatment courts. Substance abuse or mental health treatment is offered as an alternative to incarceration.  Typically, veteran mentors assist with the programs. An important issue that has to be addressed is the eligibility for veteran’s courts in terms of whether charges involving felonies or crimes of violence will be allowed. The inclusion of offenders charged with inter-family violence is also of grave concern to policy makers.

The concept of problem-solving justice is a criminal justice approach that has developed over the past fifteen years to address the underlying issues and conditions that lead to criminal behavior.11 Court models employing problem-solving theories vary according to the specific issue, but most include practices such as enhanced information collection, increased community involvement, increased collaboration and tailored access to community-based services and resources for the defendant. Domestic violence has been a prominent issue in the problem-solving justice arena. The U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women has used various funding streams, particularly the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program (GTEAP), and the Court Training and Improvements Program to support the development of Domestic Violence and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts with the overarching goals of increasing victim safety through access to victim advocacy, shelter, safety planning and other resources, and also increasing offender accountability through enhanced monitoring and compliance hearings. Additionally, courts targeting veterans as criminal defendants are among the newer developments in the field of problem-solving justice. As a hybrid of drug treatment and mental health court models, veterans treatment courts seek to address the mental health and addiction issues that often stem from the trauma of active combat and that can lead to criminal activity.

Rather than pursuing the normal course of a criminal case, the courts focus on providing access to community-based services and rehabilitation, such as substance abuse treatment, vocational training, education, and mentoring. The intersection of these two issues, domestic violence and veterans affected by trauma, leads to serious safety and ethical concerns when intimate partner violence cases are heard in a veterans court model. Despite the U.S. Department of Justice’s support and guidance on the establishment of veterans courts in conjunction with national technical assistance providers such as the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), a clear protocol does not exist as to whether intimate partner violence cases should be eligible for entry into veterans courts. This lack of a coherent policy leads to inconsistent treatment of these cases and potentially dangerous situations for domestic violence victims as well as problematic messages to the community about the nature of domestic violence and the proper criminal justice response.This note argues that intimate partner violence cases are inappropriate for admission into veterans treatment courts for three reasons. First, the courts do not currently have access to professionals with sufficient expertise in both combat-related trauma and domestic violence dynamics to perform adequate assessments to determine the underlying causes of a veteran’s violence against his partner. Second, accepting an intimate partner violence case into a veterans court sends the victim and the community problematic messages about the dynamic of domestic violence and the role of the criminal justice system. Finally, the majority of research has shown that substance abuse, mental health and batterers’ intervention treatment has limited, if any, effectiveness on recidivism in intimate partner violence cases.

If you are a veteran and need assistance, please call The Nelson Law Firm at 205-994-3183