King County's new Veterans Treatment Court to address war trauma, connect troubled veterans to services

The Metropolitan King County Council has greenlighted a new Veterans Treatment Court as a special unit of the county’s Regional Mental Health Court.

Based on other therapeutic court models, Veterans Treatment Court will help link veterans involved in the criminal justice system who are suffering from war-related trauma, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), to treatment and support services.

The court ordinance also asks Executive Dow Constantine to review options for continuing veterans treatment court beyond the initial pilot year and to recommend a way to provide ongoing support for the Veterans Treatment Court from the recently renewed Veterans and Human Services Levy.

“Some veterans have special needs after returning home from some very traumatic situations,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who co-sponsored the legislation. “They need and deserve appropriate and respectful services. This therapeutic court is one more step in the evolution of our criminal justice system toward a compassionate approach that is based on restorative justice. This concept has been proven effective at keeping veterans out of jail and instead connecting them with recovery services. While reducing jail costs, this court also will help veterans, both men and women, rebuild their civilian lives and find a healthy and productive future. It is the least we can do for the military personnel who have sacrificed for us.”

Following the therapeutic court model, the new Veterans Treatment Court will focus on treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration. The Veterans Treatment Court will connect eligible veterans to treatment and counseling services available through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA coordinates with local governments and criminal justice agencies to identify justice-involved veterans and connect them with services as part of its Veterans Justice Outreach Initiative.

By focusing exclusively on veterans and their unique circumstances, the new Veterans Treatment Court will be better equipped to help veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, which are emerging as the “signature injuries” of the current conflicts. PTSD and TBI can make it more difficult to reintegrate into civilian life and can potentially trigger behaviors that draw veterans into the criminal justice system.

The first Veterans Treatment Court was started in Buffalo in 2008. Since then, at least 80 jurisdictions across the country have established veterans treatment courts. With today’s action, King County joins four other Washington counties – Clark, Pierce, Spokane and Thurston – that have specialty veterans courts.

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