Veterans Court Considered In Pennsylvania County

February 28, 2009

The concept behind the idea of a Veterans Court in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania stems from the military itself …. ‘Leave no man behind.’ The idea is to provide an alternative court option for veterans accused of certain crimes in the county. According to those advocating for the court, it will save the traxpayers money, by diverting veterans from the corrections system to treatment facilities, that don’t use taxpayer money for their operations.

“The purpose of the court is to make sure vets who are incarcerated or suffering from things like addictions or mental health problems are not left behind,” said Allegheney County Common Please Judge, Michael E. McCarthy, as he spoke to the state House Subcommittee on Courts during a hearing at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, Pa.1

According to information that McCarthy provided, the proposed court would be similar to drug, drunk driving and mental health courts that are currently in place in the county, The program if passed, will offer psychological counseling, job placement services and treatment to veterans who commit non-violent crimes in the county, instead of incarceration. This will help veterans who successfully complete the program and follow the guidelines set down by the court, to receive the help they need, instead in a jail cell without receiving help.

According to one of the Judges who preside over the mental health court in the county, the gap between repeat offences with those who go through his court as opposed to those who do not is huge …. about 15 percent compared to 70-71 percent. If plans are approved, it will be the states first Veterans court. If it works in Allegheney County, then state Supreme Court Judge Seamus McCaffery would like to see the program expanded into other counties.

The idea of this type of court isn’t a new one. Similar systems are in place nationwide for Juvenile Offenders and often are able to rehabilitate the offender instead of institutionalize them. The veterans court will focus on providing assistance to veterans who come before it, in areas such as mental health care, substance abuse programs, job training and placement. According to statistics that were quoted at the hearing, 3 in 5 veterans in jail have substance abuse problems, as many as 1 in 3 have serious mental health problems and 1 in 5 are homeless. Sobering numbers for sure.

“For incarcerated veterans, 70 percent committed a nonviolent crime,” said Michael Moreland, a network director for VA Healthcare in Pittsburgh. “These statistics suggest that there is a significant need for services for veterans who face criminal charges.”2

I seriously hope that this program will be successful. I think it’s something, that if it works, should be replicated not only throughout Pennsylvania, but across the country. The more services and programs that are out there and available for our veterans, the more chance they have to overcome their problems and difficulties and succeed in life outside the military. Hopefully I’ll be able to report later that this program has been a huge success.

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One Response to “Veterans Court Considered In Pennsylvania County”

  1. john dillie on March 2nd, 2009 9:54 am

    New Jersey’s judiciary recently began such a program, initially in Atlantic County and eventually state-wide.

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