NEW COURT OFFERS HOPE FOR VETERANS WITH
MENTAL HEALTH OR SUBSTANCE ABUSE ISSUES
"We anticipate that the court process, along with the treatment options offered by the VA and TASC and the support of the volunteer mentors will provide veterans involved in the criminal justice system with the means to address their problems and to move on to constructive lives in our community."
Judge William L. Witham, Jr.
The stressful experiences of combat duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not necessarily end for veterans returning home. Many return with post-traumatic stress syndrome or other mental health concerns, or with drug or alcohol abuse issues, which have been caused or exacerbated by their military service. Once home, they may have difficulty in readjusting to civilian life and, eventually, become involved in some type of criminal activity. The United States Department of Justice estimates that approximately 10% of adults arrested have served in the military.
Now Delaware veterans in this situation have the opportunity to participate in a new court that can help them address the mental health and addiction issues that led to their involvement in the criminal justice system. The new veteran's court, which was developed by the Superior Court in conjunction with the Attorney General, the Public Defender, and the Treatment Access Center, started on a trial basis in February 2011 and offers veterans the opportunity to have their charges dismissed if they successfully complete a treatment plan. The court, which is presided over by Superior Court Judge William L. Witham, Jr., will serve veterans throughout the state, including both those charged with new offenses and those charged with violation of probation. It is the first statewide veteran's court in the nation.
Based on the drug and mental health court models, the court will work with veterans referred to it by the Attorney General's Office or the Office of the Public Defender. Once a referral is made, the veteran is offered the opportunity to participate in the Court on a voluntary basis. If the veteran chooses to participate, the veteran will have his or her charges deferred pending successful completion of a treatment plan, at which time the charges will be dismissed. To reach this point, veterans must comply with court ordered treatment and appear in court for progress assessments on a regular basis. Failure to comply will result in sanctions which can range from an admonishment all the way to termination from the program.
To support veterans through this process, volunteer mentors, who are also veterans, will help the court participants get to appointments and undertake other necessary steps. According to Judge Witham, who is himself a veteran, "The volunteer mentors are a crucial part of the process because they understand the stresses of military life and can offer necessary understanding, assistance and support through the difficult process of recovery." Assistance will also be provided by the Veterans Administration which is providing a coordinator who will determine eligibility for veteran's benefits and will help them enroll in programs and services needed to comply with court orders and to otherwise get their lives back in order. For those who are determined not to be eligible for Veterans Administration benefits, the Treatment Access Center (TASC) will provide similar treatment services.
Although the court has just begun operations, all of those involved in its development anticipate that it will be a tremendous benefit to both participating veterans and the state as a whole.
Judge William L. Witham, Jr., court staff, attorneys, and others who support the Veteran's Court operations.