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Question of the Month ~ July/August 2015


Q. Which states in the Midwest have veterans treatment courts and how do these courts function?

Veterans treatment courts operate in most states in the Midwest, and there are more than 200 nationally. Most of these are run by county or other local court systems, and the treatment court usually convenes once a week, depending on the need. Currently, about 11,000 veterans are being served by these courts.
First adopted in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, veterans treatment courts are based on the drug-court model, and also include features of mental health courts. These courts integrate alcohol and drug treatment, as well as mental health services, into the justice system.
They are used to divert offenders into treatment programs instead of sending them to prison. These courts will not accept veterans whose crime results in serious bodily injury or death, according to the organization Justice for Veterans.
The organization reports that more than 700,000 veterans are caught up in the criminal justice system. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has found that up to one-sixth of returning Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans have drug and alcohol addictions, and 20 percent have mental health or post-traumatic stress disorders.
Veterans treatment courts involve a number of people in the treatment process. They include the prosecutor and the defense attorney (who operate as a team), a treatment provider, a probation officer and law enforcement officials, and are overseen by a judge who stays actively involved throughout the process. These roles are also a part of the drug-court model.
Veterans treatment courts add officials from the Veterans Administration, state department of veterans affairs, veterans organizations and volunteer mentors, who are also veterans. This team seeks to provide structure and hold the veteran accountable for his or her actions. Veterans in the program are required to show up for regular court appearances (often twice a month), attend treatment sessions, and undergo random drug or alcohol testing. Mentors and other members of the team work to ensure that they meet these obligations. If the veteran consistently cannot comply, he or she will be turned over to the traditional criminal-justice system.
The National Center for State Courts finds that eight states, including Illinois and Michigan in the Midwest, have detailed and specific authorization for veterans courts in legislation. An additional seven states, including Indiana, have what the NCSC calls broad authorization, generally leaving it to the court system to operate veterans treatment courts. Other states, such as Minnesota and South Dakota, have diversionary programs that encourage courts to redirect veterans and others needing special services to the appropriate program.
Since veterans treatment courts are relatively new in most states, long-term evaluation may be several years away. But a recent Ohio study tracked 86 veterans with PTSD who were involved with such courts; 89 percent of these individuals were not rearrested while in the program. These veterans also had significant improvements in their symptoms of depression, PTSD and substance abuse.


Article written by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest assistant director. Question of the Month highlights a research inquiry received by CSG Midwest.