Tuesday, March 19, 2013
ATKINS CALLS FOR EXPANSION OF VETERANS COURT SYSTEM
(Sacramento) Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins today introduced ACR 36 which calls for the expansion of a court system that offers rehabilitative solutions for former service members. Known as the Veterans Treatment Review Calendar (VTRC,) or Veterans Court, this special court program assists veterans who have unaddressed behavioral health problems and resulting legal issues, which adversely impact their ability to relate to family, obtain a stable job or keep from becoming homeless. The first pilot VTRC was in Atkins’ San Diego district and currently only thirteen counties in the state have similar programs, which have been shown to dramatically improve outcomes for these veterans.
“We owe it to our returning warriors to help them re-establish productive civilian lives,” says Atkins. “Veterans Courts are a proven success that pay off in the long run for veterans, their families, and their communities.”
The cases most commonly heard in current Veterans Courts are first-time offenses that are eligible for probation. The program typically requires each veteran to undergo a three-phase treatment program that lasts from 12 to 18 months and is tailored to address the individual’s needs and challenges. Following each phase, the veteran must submit a letter to the judge, requesting permission to advance to the next level, where he or she is given another set of goals to accomplish. At completion, the judge may waive court or criminal fees, commute felonies or even, under a new provision in the California Penal Code, expunge charges completely.
At approximately two million, California has the largest veteran population of any state, 160,000 of whom are combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thirty thousand combat veterans are expected to return every year for the foreseeable future. As many as 20% of these returning veterans show signs of mental health problems, with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety, and acute stress being common. Many of these veterans turn to drugs and alcohol in order to self-medicate and many end up homeless.
Most veterans who participate in the VTRC program succeed in overcoming their substance abuse and homelessness and are able to move forward to productive post-military lives. ACR 36 calls on California’s superior courts to establish Veterans Courts tailored to local needs.