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King County puts Veterans Treatment Court into action

Summary

New therapeutic court will provide treatment and supervision to assist veterans and reduce involvement in the criminal justice system

Story

County officials, judges, community members, and veterans gathered at the King County Courthouse today to celebrate the launch of the new Veterans Treatment Court – a specialty court for veterans involved in the criminal justice system that provides accountability while linking veterans to needed treatment and services.

Created by legislation authored by King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson and adopted unanimously by the Metropolitan King County Council in 2011, the new court opens as a component of King County District Court’s Regional Mental Health Court.

“Veterans Treatment Court will help veterans who are struggling to reintegrate into civilian life after returning from the front lines of war,” said Ferguson, sponsor of the Veterans Treatment Court. “Building on the success of veterans’ courts around the nation, King County’s court will connect veterans with needed treatment and services, reduce recidivism, and improve lives. We owe it to our service men and women.”

“It is fitting, on this Flag Day, that we honor our veterans by launching this specialty court to link those dealing with war-related traumas with the treatment and services they need,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“This is an idea whose time has come and I am proud my office will be part of the team serving veterans in this way,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “The hallmarks of Veterans Court will be USA: Understanding, Support, and Appreciation.”

“It is fitting to honor our veterans on Flag Day by celebrating the launch of Regional Veterans Treatment Court today,” said King County District Court Presiding Judge Corinna Harn. “Veterans can face challenges transitioning back to civilian life and Veterans Court is specifically designed to work with veterans who are struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues.”

By focusing exclusively on veterans and their unique circumstances, the new Veterans Treatment Court will be equipped to help veterans suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). The “signature injuries” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, PTSD and TBI can make it more difficult to reintegrate into civilian life and potentially trigger behaviors that draw veterans into the criminal justice system.

“The Veterans Court would not exist without the partnership of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, veterans’ advocacy groups, treatment providers, and other professionals with diverse backgrounds,” said Regional Veterans Court Judge Michael Finkle. “That partnership is a perfect example of creative problem-solving at its best.”

“Along with our thanks, the men and women who have served their country deserve our support when they need it,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “The Veterans Court is an example of the community reaching out to assist these heroes in their time of need, and giving them alternatives other than a prison cell.”

The new Veterans Treatment Court follows the successful model of the County’s award-winning Drug and Mental Health therapeutic courts, which focus on treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration for low-level, non-violent offenders. The Veterans Treatment Court will connect eligible veterans to treatment and counseling services available through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA coordinates with local governments and criminal justice agencies to identify justice-involved veterans and connect them with services as part of its Veterans Justice Outreach Initiative.

“War-zone service can have a profound impact on our servicemen and women. Some face challenges reintegrating back into civilian life, which can lead to involvement in the criminal justice system,” said Kevin Devine, Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator for the Seattle Division of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. “VA Puget Sound is pleased to be partnering with King County District Court to help link struggling veterans to the treatment they need.”

King County joins Thurston, Pierce, Spokane, and Clark counties, as well as Seattle Municipal Court, in creating new specialty courts for veterans. The first in the nation was started in Buffalo, New York, in 2008. Since then, at least 80 jurisdictions across the country have established veteran treatment courts.

King County’s Veterans Treatment Court will be funded in future years by the Veterans and Human Services Levy, which was renewed by voters in 2011 with nearly 70 percent voter approval.


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