Allegheny County, along with other surrounding counties, has taken an enlightened approach to dealing with Veterans charged with crimes as a result of issues related to their service to our country. For example, Allegheny County now has a court called Veterans Court.
Veterans Court is a treatment Court designed to serve the ends of justice involving veterans who are struggling with addiction or substance abuse problems, mental health issues, and reintegration issues. Mental health issues include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries, or other types of verified medical diagnosis.
The goal of Veterans Court is to help those people who have served our country honorably by getting those individuals who need help to the appropriate services. Veterans Court involves intensive treatment and support while the individual is under the supervision of the Court. It is often seen as an alternative to jail time for veterans who have fallen into trouble with the law.
The goal of Veterans Court is to have a low recidivism rate for veterans who graduate from the Court so that valuable resources are not tied up in future problems with the law. There is a specially assigned judge, the Honorable John A. Zottola, for Veterans Court.
Judge Zottola also heads the County’s Mental Health Court. I have known Judge Zottola for a very long time and I believe he is a caring compassionate jurist who is also an outstanding judge.
How do you quality for Veterans Court? In order to qualify for Veterans Court, the Defendant must be 18 years or older, and be a current military member in good standing and who has not been dishonorably discharged. The individual must have a documented qualifying Axis One diagnosis. That is just a fancy word for a medically diagnosed condition such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or Traumatic Brain Injury as noted above. Other factors to consider would be Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Psychotic Disorder, or major Depression.
In order to be involved with Veterans Court, the Defendant must voluntarily participate in the program. The idea is to put these individuals in contact with social agencies and groups that can help them deal with their problems. They are also overseen by the Court to make sure that they are compliant with any treatment suggested.
I highly applaud the efforts of the Veterans Court to deal with issues unique to veterans. After all, they are the ones who have served and protected and risked their lives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and long ago in places like Vietnam.
Finally, Veterans Court does not involve a free ride. The person who is in the Veterans Court still has a conviction for their actions and there are consequences for it. It is, however, an alternative to the traditional jail setting for certain types of offenses.
How does one apply for the Veterans Court? You must fill out an Allegheny Veterans Court form. It is a one page questionnaire and it is submitted to the appropriate authorities for their review.
Our office has copies of the Allegheny County Veterans Court Referral form and I can provide a copy to you. Please call me at 800-518-0050 and I will get it to you asap.