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Veterans Court—Veterans Deserve a Second Chance

May 31, 2023


​Annaliza Rodriguez

Staff Reporter (2022-2023)


Veterans Court requirements may vary from county to county. Information in this article came from the North Texas Regional Veterans Court run by Judge John R. Roach Jr. and the Program Manager, Amanda Garcia.


Veterans make many sacrifices for our country while serving in the military. Unfortunately, a growing number of veterans suffer from substance use disorders, mental health conditions, and trauma. When veterans transition into the civilian world, these issues can be exacerbated by the loss of structure and camaraderie found in the military. Research continues to link substance use disorders with service-related mental illness.¹ These issues increase the likelihood of involvement with the justice system. 81% of veterans who have entered the criminal justice system have a substance use disorder prior to incarceration, and 25% are identified as mentally ill.²

What is Veterans Court?


Veterans Court is a program that seeks justice for veterans who are currently facing prosecution for one or more criminal cases. It seeks to divert veterans out of the traditional criminal justice process and into appropriate rehabilitative alternatives with a high degree of accountability. It gives them an alternative to incarceration by providing them with a treatment program designed to meet the unique needs of qualifying veterans. One judge handles the cases of veterans in the program and addresses all veterans in the same court session. This helps to restore the structure and camaraderie found in the military.³

Am I eligible?


Veterans must check the eligibility requirements in their county. However, to be eligible for the North Texas Regional Court participants must be a veteran or a current member of the United States armed forces, including a member of the reserves, national guard, or state guard, who:

  1. Suffers from a brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder if the injury, illness, disorder, or trauma occurred during, or resulted from, the participant's military service and the injury affected the participant's criminal conduct at issue in the case; or

  2. Was a victim of military sexual trauma if the injury, illness, disorder, or trauma occurred during, or resulted from, the participant's military service and the injury affected the participant's criminal conduct at issue in the case; or

  3. Is a participant whose participation in the program—considering the circumstances of the participant's conduct, personal and social background, and criminal history—is likely to achieve the program’s objective.

While eligibility requirements vary from court to court, one of the typical eligibility requirements is an honorable discharge or general under honorable conditions discharge. Additionally, the criminal offense must be eligible. A veteran is not eligible if the criminal offense is a sexual offense or crimes against children, elderly, or disabled. How do I apply?


Law enforcement, jail staff, judges, defense attorneys, family, friends, prosecutors, and mental health professionals can submit referrals to the Program Manager of the Veterans Court. The Program Manager will review the referral and ensure that any required criteria are met. The Program Manager will then conduct an initial interview with the candidate and will submit the application to the county District Attorney’s office for initial review. The District Attorney’s office reviews the application and either denies consent or agrees provisionally pending the results of a mental health evaluation.If the District Attorney’s office approves the application, the applicant is scheduled for a face-to-face interview with the Veterans Court treatment team, who will make the final decision for approval. If an applicant is approved by the Veterans Court treatment team, they will be scheduled to “plea into” Veterans Court, meaning the case will be transferred from the originating court into Veterans Court.

What will I have to do if my application is approved?


The Veterans Court Diversion Program is a 12 to 24-month program. The length of the program is determined based on the veteran’s specific needs and compliance with the program. Veterans will assist in developing their individualized treatment plan. A phase system is used to measure a veteran’s progress. There are three phases, and each phase has a particular focus. Treatment and program compliance are required for advancement to the next phase. Additionally, services for education, counseling, drug/alcohol monitoring, and other needs are provided by outside agencies. In addition to the Veterans Court Probation Officer, a Case Manager will monitor each veteran placed in the program. The Case Manager will work closely with the Program Manager and service providers. All veterans in the program are required to attend monthly compliance hearings, where the progress of each veteran is reviewed in open court. Both incentives and sanctions are used as methods of motivation. Upon successful completion of the program, the case(s) are dismissed (if allowed by law). If the veteran does not comply with the program requirements, the case(s) are remanded to the court of origin for continued prosecution.

Is there a Veterans Court in the county where my case is pending?


The TEXVET website contains a complete list of Veteran Courts in Texas. However, if a veteran is charged with an offense in a county that does not operate a Veterans Court, the court in which the criminal case is pending may place the veteran in a Veterans Court program located in the county where the defendant works, resides, or in an adjacent county, provided that there is a program in that county and the veteran agrees to the placement.

Veterans Court offers a way for veterans to utilize the benefits and treatment they have earned. It connects Veterans with the tools they need to change their life. If you believe you qualify, Veterans Court can provide you with a second chance if you are willing to put in the work.

 

Sources:

[1] What’s At Stake, Justice for Vets, https://justiceforvets.org/whats-at-stake/ (last visited Feb. 1, 2023).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4]Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 124.002.

[5] TexVet, https://texvet.org/ (last visited Feb. 1, 2023).

[6] Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 124.006.

[7]Thank you to Judge John Roach Jr., the presiding Judge of the North Texas Regional Veterans Court, which is the first regional Veterans Court in the United States. The effort that you and your team put in to help veterans is inspiring. Semper Fidelis.

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