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Military Veterans Asked to Serve In Specialized Courts to Help Fellow Vets

Veterans Treatment Courts aim to do more than just process nonviolent defendants coming through the justice system. They also aim to promote their sobriety and stability.

The state Supreme Court is launching an online training program for volunteers to serve as mentors in these courts. According to Chief Justice Ronald Castille, it helps if the mentors are themselves veterans, especially people who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and can relate to the large group of veterans who come before courts right now. But older veterans are a helpful presence in Veterans Court as well.

"It's always nice to have a senior type person, you know, someone that's been perhaps a Vietnam veteran, or even World War II, although there's not too many of them," said Castille.

The courts are modeled after drug treatment courts, which create a team of people to help an offender brought up on charges to regain his or her footing. Castille said that veterans coming into the criminal justice system can benefit from having mentors.

"The volunteer veterans will be there to assist this veteran if they should want to stray, so these are important programs, and it's part of our efforts to reach out and help those that have served their nation," said Castille.

Castille added that the Veterans Courts have a good track record of helping military service men and women recover from whatever brought them on the wrong side of the law.

"We think these individuals, once they learn their discipline and [get] their self-respect back, that they'll go on to lead a life of contributing to our society," he said.

The first Veterans Court in Pennsylvania opened in Lackawanna County in 2009, following the model of a court in Buffalo, New York. Eight such courts are now in operation across the state in Washington, Allegheny, Northumberland, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Berks, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Philadelphia Counties. Others are in planning for Fayette, Cambria, Cumberland, York, Dauphin, Lebanon, Lancaster, Bucks, and Luzerne Counties.