Veterans Court helps veterans in criminal justice system
For most, the court system can be complicated, confusing and scary. For many veterans, the process now comes with a sense of comradery and hope.
The King County District Court Regional Veterans Court serves veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other disabilities from their time in service. In 2008, a judge in New York launched the first Veterans Treatment Court. Recognizing a need, King County launched a study in 2011 to determine the best treatment option, and in 2012 officially opened King County District Court’s Regional Veterans Court.
The Regional Veterans Court is classified as a therapeutic court, where individuals are served by what their needs and different risks are. By working with veterans, the Regional Veterans Court hopes to stop them from offending, and give them tools to deal with their underlying mental health and addiction issues, Callista Welbaum, Program Manager said.
“Those who do best through our program are those who need the most help, who have the most problems,” Welbaum said. “We stop them from reoffending and help them get help.”
Regional Veterans Court will be part of a pilot program starting in 2016, which will use a risk assessment tool to determine which veterans are best suited for a therapeutic court.
King County District Regional Veterans Court is overseen by the same judge who oversees District Court’s Mental Health Court. Veterans must be referred into the system and be willing to go through the referral process. The Regional Veterans Court serves veterans who have been arrested on city cases, district court cases, and those who have committed felonies and are in Superior Court. At this time, the majority of referrals come from Superior Court.
Because the program could take up to two years, the King County District Court’s Regional Veterans Court requires veterans to be wholly committed to the process. Veterans go through an emotional journey and have to be willing to get help, Welbaum said. From identifying disabilities, treating drug and alcohol abuse, and often repairing family ties, the veteran is provided support to help with whatever challenges face them.
Luckily, they are not alone.
“Unlike normal court, there is a sense of comradery,” Welbaum said. “Veterans go to court together, go through treatments together. They form a unit, just like they did in the service.”
At any given time there are 40 to 50 veterans who have passed the criteria of having a service-related disability and have been charged with a crime in regional King County. Some veterans who do not pass the criteria can be served in King County District Court’s Mental Health Court.
King County District Court’s Regional Veterans Court is working on a Mentor Program to connect court-involved veterans with other veterans in the community, many who have gone through similar situations.
In the future, the King County District Court’s Regional Veterans Court hopes to raise their intake levels and have more mentors working with the veterans.