The first Veterans Treatment Court was founded by the Honorable Robert Russell in Buffalo, New York in January, 2008, after he noticed an increase in the number of veterans appearing on his Drug Court and Mental Health Court dockets. Judge Russell saw firsthand the transformative power of military camaraderie when veterans on his staff assisted a veteran in one of his treatment courts, but also recognized that more could be done to ensure veterans were connected to benefits and treatment earned through military service.
Veterans Treatment Courts allow jurisdictions to serve a large segment of the justice-involved veteran population as opposed to business as usual – having all veterans appear before random judges who may or may not have an understanding of their unique problems. Because a Veterans Treatment Court judge handles numerous veterans' cases and is supported by a strong, interdisciplinary team, he or she is in a much better position to exercise discretion and effectively respond than a judge who only occasionally hears a case involving a veteran defendant. A Veterans Treatment Court judge better understands the issues that a veteran may be struggling with, such as substance addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and military sexual trauma. A Veterans Treatment Court judge is also more familiar with the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Administration, State Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Service Organizations, and volunteer Veteran Mentors and how they all can assist veteran defendants.
All participants are required to make monthly court appearances for judicial review. Treatment may involve drug and alcohol treatment, random drug testing, support group meetings, vocational, job, and education referrals, and community supervision. Based on success or setbacks, the judge either rewards compliance or sanctions non-compliance. The Twelfth Judicial VTC program is a four phase program designed to be completed in 1 year, but your length in the program may vary depending upon your circumstances and may take up to 24 months. Our goal is for you to be successful.
Participation in Drug Court is voluntary. It is a treatment program. Defendants must want drug treatment in order to participate.
Defendants are required to appear in person before the judge on Tuesdays at 10:00 once a week for the first 30 days of participation. Following the 30 days they must appear at least one time per month.
Defendants are also required to drug test at least 3 times per week on a random schedule. Testing hours are from 7:30 to 4:00 Monday through Friday. Defendants are encouraged to be honest about their sobriety.
Throughout the different phases of the program, defendants will be required to make one-on-one therapy appointments, group therapy meetings and outside support meetings. These are in person and are offered during normal business hours. These can be in addition to VA Core Outpatient program, the VA intensive day treatment program, or outpatient through a local provider.
Defendants could be sanctioned with time in the county jail for failure to comply with the rules or maintaining sobriety.
Defendants may also be required to go to short term residential treatment at a VA substance abuse Treatment Program or a long- term residential treatment program from a local provider at the discretion of the treatment team.
Veteran Defendants may have access to and be required to attend domestic violence groups, anger/conflict resolution groups and other veteran specialty groups as the treatment team deems there is a need for these additional programs.
Defendants must be able to commit to this time schedule in order to successfully participate in the program. Participants are encouraged to establish and maintain a self-support group to assit them after they have completed treatment.
Financial requirements differ for each defendant. At a minimum there is a $10 per week fee that covers the costs of drug testing and counseling services. This can be met by performing community service hours if there is a need to do so. If Veterans Court is a condition of probation, court costs will also need to be paid over the course of the defendant’s participation. There is no cost of supervision during participation in the Veterans Court program.
The Veterans Treatment Court Team will give final approval, but the following criteria must be met in order to be considered for the program.
- Must have served or is currently serving in a branch of the United States Armed Forces or Coast Guard. Service in foreign armed forces may be considered on a case by case basis.
- The veteran’s charges are non-violent felonies, but misdemeanors will be reviewed on a case by case basis. (No drug dealing accepted)
- The veteran must be willing to actively participate in the Veterans Treatment Court and abide by program rules and recommendations.
Defendants can be referred to Veterans Court in one of three ways:
- At first appearances the Judge can order a screening for appropriateness for the program.
- The defense attorney can request that the defendant be screened if they feel there is a need or an interest.
- The State Attorney can ask for a screening recommendation if they feel the defendant meets the criteria through discussions with law enforcement or family members.
- The VA representative can make a referral based on their knowledge of the defendant and their needs.
Once the referral is made, a member of the State Attorney staff looks at the criminal history of the defendant to see if they are legally appropriate. If they feel that they are, the State will send an offer to include drug court participation to the defendant’s attorney. The attorney will then discuss the offer with the defendant to determine if participation is in the defendant’s best interest.