Veterans courts are designed to assist justice-involved defendants with the complex treatment needs associated with substance abuse, mental health, and other issues unique to the traumatic experience of war. Some veterans returning home from war find it difficult to integrate back into the community. Veterans with untreated substance abuse or mental health illnesses, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), may find it even harder to return home, which can sometimes lead to criminal activity.
Veterans courts involve cooperation and collaboration with traditional partners found in drug courts, such as the judge, state attorney, public defender, case manager, treatment provider, probation, and law enforcement. Added to this interdisciplinary team are representatives of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefit Administration- as well as State Departments of Veterans Affairs, Vet Centers, Veterans Service Organizations, Department of Labor, volunteer veteran mentors, and other veterans support groups.
The most obvious distinction between a veterans court and other problem-solving courts is that it limits participation to current or former members of the military. Some of the other differences include the veterans court team encompassing at least one member who is familiar with veteran and military culture, terminology, benefits, and any other veteran or military issues that may arise.
Veterans courts make use of the camaraderie that exists among all veterans. An essential part of veterans court is the addition of volunteer veteran mentors to assist their fellow veterans with a wide array of support. They are principal to the veterans court team and the participants. Their interaction with the participant, including a supportive relationship, maintained throughout the program, increases the likelihood that the participant will remain in treatment and improves the chances of success and sobriety. Veteran mentors volunteer their time and energy to assist their fellow veterans with peer support, housing, employment linkages, job training, education, transportation, disability compensation claims, discharge status and other linkages available at the local, state and federal level.
Furthermore, the VHA plays a key role in veterans court as their services are provided to justice-involved veteran participants. Veterans treatment courts leverage resources available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to serve these offenders treatment needs.
As of December 2016, Florida has 28 veterans courts in operation, three of which are operating as a part of drug court and/or mental health court.
Publications and Resources
This 2014 guide, prepared by the Florida Supreme Court Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Court, provides information regarding Florida’s veterans courts, mental and physical health issues related to veterans, veterans benefits, a judicial benchguide, and more.
Data from 2015 indicates that Florida’s veterans courts admitted almost 1,175 participants and graduated almost 700.
Florida Supreme Court Governance Groups
The Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Courts addresses the needs of individuals with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders who become involved in the justice system. The task force is charged with developing practice standards for Florida’s veterans courts.