King County launches treatment court for veterans

June 26, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

King County officials celebrated the launch of Veterans Treatment Court on June 14, a milestone in the effort to direct veterans into treatment and services, rather than incarceration.

The combination of mental health issues, alongside post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, can lead veterans into the criminal justice system. Officials said the Veterans Treatment Court offers a better route for nonviolent offenders.

The program, a part of Mental Health Court, is rooted in legislation adopted by the King County Council last year. Officials gathered at the King County Courthouse to launch the program.

The program is to receive future funding by the Veterans and Human Services Levy. King County voters renewed the property tax levy package in 2011 with almost 70 percent approval.“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,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said.

The issue of mental illnesses among veterans is a concern as service members return from Afghanistan and Iraq suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, which can trigger behaviors to potentially lead veterans into the criminal justice system.

“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,” King County District Court Presiding Judge Corinna Harn said in a statement.

The court follows the model of the county drug and mental health therapeutic courts. The systems focus on treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration for low-level, nonviolent offenders.

The latest project aims to meld local criminal justice resources and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical, mental health and addiction services.

King County joins Thurston, Pierce, Spokane, and Clark counties, plus Seattle Municipal Court, to create a specialty court for veterans.

Judge Robert Russell in Buffalo, N.Y., pioneered a treatment program in 2008 after realizing veterans comprised a large number of cases in the local drug and mental health courts. Since then, at least 80 jurisdictions across the country established veteran treatment courts.

“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,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said in a statement. “The hallmarks of Veterans Court will be USA: understanding, support and appreciation.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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