Kansas’ first veterans courts program in the works

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Veterans court programs have sprung up in 40 states since 2008, an alternative to jail for some veterans who get into trouble. Kansas may be next.

Johnson County has begun planning for a veterans court, and a committee ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court will propose standards and study costs, the Kansas City Star reported.

About 250 veterans court programs exist nationwide, specifically for those whose drug habits, injuries or stress related to military service may have contributed to civilian trouble with the law.

On the Missouri side of the Kansas City area, about 80 veterans are enrolled in treatment instead of being jailed. Kansas’ delay in adopting the program puzzles some, given the state is home to three large military posts and about 220,000 veterans.

“The goal here is to treat those veterans who have diagnosed conditions that are at the root of their behavior,” said retired Army Major Gen. Clyde Tate, a former Kansas resident and senior fellow with the advocacy group Justice for Vets.

Tate said the courts are so new that their success rates are hard to measure, but cited Buffalo, New York, where nine of every 10 graduates haven’t come back to court.

Johnson County District Judge Timothy P. McCarthy is planning a path for veterans charged with low-level crimes to get medical help and hopes to have the court operational by the fall.

In Missouri, Clay County is the latest to launch a program. Circuit Judge Shane T. Alexander, a Navy veteran, told Jill Norris when she took over as coordinator of the county’s drug court last year, “I want a veterans court and I want it ASAP,” she recalled.

Like drug courts, veterans courts require defendants to commit to a treatment regimen and attend court and counseling sessions. Fellow veterans serve as mentors. Those in the program must submit to drug screenings and stay out of trouble. The program usually lasts a year. The most common cases are weapons charges, narcotics possession and drunken driving offenses in which others weren’t badly hurt or killed. Some courts accept assault cases when victims approve.

A Kansas bill passed last year allows for hearings in which some convicted defendants can argue that their crimes resulted from post-traumatic stress disorder, and a judge may refer a qualifying defendant to a veterans treatment facility rather than giving a jail sentence.

“We need to do everything we can to help those veterans who are in trouble get mental health treatment,” said state Rep. Mario Goico, a Wichita Republican and an Air Force veteran who leads the House Committee on Veterans, Military and Homeland Security.

Domestic assault is a common offense that brings veterans to court. The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence opposed the sentencing bill, arguing it’s difficult to determine the root cause of battering.

“There’s a lot of sympathy for veterans who come back after honorably serving their country … but you shouldn’t let batterers hide among them,” spokeswoman Joyce Grover said.

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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