Veterans Treatment Courts

AuthorJulie Marie Baldwin
Criminal defense lawyers know that courts can be places of despair and
shame, made worse by the public’s dislike of our clients and the lack of
sufficient community resources. This is not the case with veterans treat-
ment courts. These courts are places where the defendants believe that they
can succeed. Although they may feel genuine remorse for their offenses,
there is a certain pride in being with others who have served their country
and experienced the trauma of combat. The public’s understanding of post-
traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury is growing, and there is
greater recognition that the wounds of war are not just physical. Veterans
courts are created in order that those who appear before it succeed, and
everyone, including judges, prosecutors, and representatives from the U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs, is committed to that goal.
In this chapter, Professor Julie Marie Baldwin describes how veterans
treatment courts function, and how criminal defense lawyers can assist
their clients in accessing the relatively abundant services available to this
population. In particular, she cites to a number of helpful resources on this
book’s website such as a Military Information Questionnaire and Eligibility
Worksheet. These resources are available at
• • •
Veterans treatment courts (VTCs) strive to improve the lives of military
veterans and service members who end up in the criminal justice system.
Although this is their general purpose, VTC programs are unstandardized,
varying even in fundamental aspects such as target population and structure.
Veterans Treatment Courts
Julie Marie Baldwin
196 Representing People with Mental Disabilities
As such, the overall goal of this chapter is to provide you with pertinent
information and tools to help you better serve these clients and navigate
VTC programs. The chapter begins by conceptualizing VTCs with
a general explanation of their purpose and basic functioning. The
targets of these programs (i.e., individuals and their needs) are then
examined through an illustration of the constellation of issues and
their interrelatedness. Contributing to this portrait, various group and
subgroups of offenders and nonoffenders with and without a history of
military service are comparatively examined in terms of demographics
and legal and extra-legal challenges. With the VTC concept and its target
generally established, several challenges facing defense counsel in their
work with VTCs are addressed. These issues were identified by the author’s
research that primarily consisted of self-report data from various types of
defense counsel in contact with VTCs, as well as some nonparticipant
observation. The remaining sections of this chapter address some of the
particular issues that emerged and are organized by the following themes:
(1) client identification, (2) case transfers and program identification,
(3) eligibility, (4) admission, (5) involvement (defense counsel participation
and roles).
The Veterans Treatment Court Concept
Veterans treatment courts are a specialty court within the United States
criminal court system, originally created through judicial initiative in
the mid-2000s. They have been characterized as a hybrid of drug courts
and mental health courts due to similarities in philosophies, objectives,
goals, and procedures. Paralleling other specialized courts, VTC program
participation is theoretically voluntary with those eligible offered the
choice to participate and having the ability to drop out at any time. VTCs
also utilize the specialty court model: divert their participants from the
traditional criminal justice system to nontraditional channels of justice
that address the potential underlying causes and correlates of their
criminal behavior in an effort to reduce, if not eliminate, future contact
with the criminal justice system (see Figure 12.1). This nontraditional
route not only involves connecting participants with services that
target the correlates of their criminal behavior, but also mandating and
monitoring their participation in those services. These services include
those traditionally associated with therapeutic specialty courts (e.g.,
mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment). For participant

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