The Philadelphia Veterans Court, a holistic Treatment Court approach to dealing with US military veterans who have become involved in the criminal-justice system, graduates its 2012 class last Friday in a moving ceremony in Courtroom 305 of the Criminal Justice Center.
Under the leadership of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery – both veterans – and Municipal Court President Judge Marsha H. Neifield, Veterans Court was established in recognition of the tremendous service members of the US Armed Forces provide to our nation. This initiative – a collaboration between the Courts, District Attorney, Public Defender, Veterans Administration and numerous veterans agencies – assists veterans as they work to overcome the burdens carried from service to our country, which have been exacerbated by involvement with the criminal justice system. Veterans’ Court is presided over by Judges Patrick F. Dugan and Joseph C. Waters, Jr., who also are veterans of the United States military.
“Philadelphia’s Veterans’ Court has been a wonderful success to date and a great example of the benefits of intervention services in greatly reducing recidivism rates among the city’s veterans,” said President Judge Neifield. “These are men and women who served our nation honorably, but who have come in contact with the criminal justice system largely through drug and alcohol abuse and other issues often associated with the horrors of war and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They are deserving of the Court’s help in turning their lives around and Veterans’ Court has proven to be a lifeline for many of our military vets. We’re once again proud to be graduating a new class of vets who have successfully completed the requirements of the Court.”
The Veterans Treatment Court model requires regular court appearances, mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, and testing for substance use (drug and/or alcohol). Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment given their past experiences in the Armed Forces. The Veterans Treatment Court is able to ensure that our vets meet their obligations to themselves, the court, and their community.
Those veterans who qualify for Veterans’ Court are directed to representatives of the Veterans Administration (VA), who are on site in one of Philadelphia’s courtrooms. The VA staff schedules eligible Veterans for an assessment to determine appropriate needs and levels of care, and directs them to benefits to which they may be entitled. The assessment determines the veterans’ suitability for an array of VA programs, including any required treatment (alcohol, drug, mental health or medical) as well as housing, job training and job referrals. After consultation with a defense attorney, if an eligible veteran chooses to accept the terms of the offer from the Philadelphia District Attorney to participate in this voluntary program, the veteran may be paired with a Mentor, who assists the Veteran in working toward a successful resolution of the criminal charges, including a change in life choices, so that future contacts with the criminal justice system can be avoided.
In addition, Philadelphia Veterans’ Court is fortunate to have the full support of the Philadelphia Dept. of Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disability Services, whose representative regularly attends Veterans Court and provides referrals and treatment to veterans not receiving services through the Veterans’ Administration