Too many veterans return home with health, substance abuse and/or psychosocial problems, making it difficult to re-enter the civilian population. A lack of jobs, along with family and housing issues, also takes its toll. When these veterans run afoul of the criminal justice system, it’s important for their unique circumstances to be understood and addressed.
Palm Beach County created a Veterans Court, partnering with federal, state and local agencies, to solve the participants’ underlying health, substance abuse and psychological problems. Honorably discharged veterans who commit certain misdemeanor and felony crimes are eligible upon the consent of the victims. Veterans Court is a non-adversarial atmosphere where a judge, prosecutor and public defender – all veterans themselves – work together to break the cycle of substance abuse and criminal behavior, and address mental and physical health issues. Perhaps most importantly, each veteran in the program is assigned a mentor -- a fellow veteran usually from the same branch of service -- to be there every step of the way. Working together, nearly all veterans successfully complete the program and return to a law-abiding life. Meanwhile, costs of pretrial incarceration have been reduced by 73%.