County establishes Veterans Treatment Court, focuses on rehabilitation

September 12, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 9 p.m. Sept. 12, 2011

King County Council members agreed Monday to create a special treatment court for veterans charged for nonviolent crimes.

In a unanimous decision, council members established a yearlong Veterans Treatment Court pilot project as part of the existing Mental Health Court. The veterans court is meant to connect veterans in the criminal justice system to support and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The focus is on rehabilitation rather than incarceration.

“This new Veterans Treatment Court will connect veterans to the services and benefits they have earned and will improve the lives of those veterans who may be struggling as they transition back into civilian life,” Councilman Bob Ferguson, prime sponsor of the ordinance, said in a statement. “We can pilot a Veterans Treatment Court without expending additional resources, and we owe it to our veterans to make sure they get the support they need.”

Officials intend to use Mental Health Court resources for the Veterans Treatment Court, so the cost to the county could be nothing.

Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Issaquah’s representative on the council, cosponsored the legislation.

“Some veterans have special needs after returning home from some very traumatic situations,” she said in a statement. “They need and deserve appropriate and respectful services. This therapeutic court is one more step in the evolution of our criminal justice system toward a compassionate approach that is based on restorative justice.”

The legislation also asks County Executive Dow Constantine to review options for continuing veterans treatment court beyond the pilot program. The council also called on Constantine to recommend a way to support the court using resources from the county Veterans and Human Services Levy. (In August, King County voters renewed the levy through 2017.)

Judge Robert Russell in Buffalo, N.Y., pioneered the program in 2008 after realizing veterans comprised a large number of cases in the local drug and mental health courts.

“Today’s legislation will provide support to our veterans after they return home from serving our country,” Constantine said in a statement. “Through military service, veterans have faced trauma and challenges most of us can’t imagine. This successful model will improve the lives of those who will benefit from proven treatment. I thank the council for adopting the ordinance.”

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