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King County Executive
Dow Constantine


County leaders unite in support of new Veterans Treatment Court, with focus on services and support rather than incarceration

Summary

Military veterans in King County would be connected to the treatment and support services they need to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness, under a proposal to establish a dedicated treatment court calendar for veterans being developed by King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County District Court.

Story

Military veterans in King County would be connected to the treatment and support services they need to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness, under a proposal to establish a dedicated treatment court calendar for veterans being developed by King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County District Court.

“Our veterans and their families stand up for us in times of trouble. Let’s provide the support they need when they come home,” said Executive Constantine, who outlined the proposal in a report to the County Council. “Veterans Treatment Court will help veterans and their families deal with the trauma and challenges they’ve faced. This nationally proven, successful model will improve the lives of those who have served our country.”

“A new King County Veterans Treatment Court will address the unique circumstances and needs of our veterans and keep them from cycling back through the justice system,” said Councilmember Ferguson, who called for the report as part of the 2011 County budget. “We owe it to our veterans to honor their service and sacrifice by putting programs in place that break down the barriers veterans face as they reintegrate into civilian life.”

The report proposes a one-year pilot project to provide specialty court services to veterans within the existing resources of the Regional Mental Health Court, which is a Therapeutic Court within King County District Court. The Veterans Treatment Court would embrace the model of the county’s award winning drug and mental health courts that emphasize treatment rather than incarceration. The pilot would combine local criminal justice resources with medical, mental health, and addiction services through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Councilmember Ferguson and Executive Constantine are working together on legislation that would green-light implementation of the pilot project and establish a court beyond the first year.

The Veterans Treatment Court proposal has also received widespread support from other criminal justice leaders. All of the partners in King County’s Regional Mental Health Court – the District Court, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Associated Council for the Accused, the Office of the Public Defender, and the County’s Department of Community and Human Services – have agreed that a special veterans calendar can be piloted within existing staff resources.

“A Veterans Court will enhance the District Court’s focused, therapeutic response to issues involving criminal justice, public safety, and mental illness,” said King County District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde, who is also co-chair of King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Oversight Committee. “I’ve seen firsthand the positive changes made in the lives of program participants in therapeutic courts. We owe our veterans every chance to succeed as well.”

Originally developed in 2008 by a judge in Buffalo, New York, the Veterans Treatment Court model has been adopted by nearly 80 jurisdictions nationwide, including Pierce, Thurston, Clark, and Spokane Counties in this state.

In the past decade, the VA has been increasingly active in efforts to address mental health and substance abuse issues among veterans. In 2009, it launched a Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Initiative designed to coordinate with local governments and criminal justice agencies to identify justice-involved veterans and connect them to the services available through the VA.

Veterans Treatment Courts and the VJO are intended to meet the needs of both older veterans from 20th-century wars, as well as the new generation of veterans coming home from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. These veterans are younger, include more females than ever before, and are more likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

PTSD and TBI are emerging as the “signature injuries” of the current conflicts. Advances in medical treatment have increased rates of survival, but the combination of mental health issues along with PTSD and TBI can trigger behaviors that draw veterans into the criminal justice system.

The Mental Illness Drug Dependency Oversight Committee, a group of County and community representatives convened to ensure the effective use of revenue from the 1/10th of a cent Mental Illness and Drug Dependency sales tax, is scheduled to review the proposal to expand the Regional Mental Health Court to include a veterans treatment calendar at its August 25th meeting.

If approved by the King County Council, the Veterans Treatment Court pilot could begin as soon as January 2012.



King County Executive
Dow Constantine
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