Justice Matters: Missouri courts respect, serve veterans

6 November 2013

Justice Matters: Missouri courts respect, serve veterans

Photo of Chief Justice Mary R. RussellThe following reflections of Missouri Chief Justice Mary R. Russell make up her most recent Justice Matters column.
As we celebrate Veterans Day, we think of the many brave men and women who have protected our nation through their service to our armed forces. Personally, I think of my Uncle David Stewart Jr., who lost his life in World War II at age 19.  

Professionally, I am reminded of the unique legal problems our military men and women face when they return home. Due in part to combat-related stress or difficulty adjusting to life at home, some veterans suffer from mental illness or addiction to alcohol or drugs and may find themselves on the wrong side of the law. These veterans may turn for help to one of Missouri’s veterans treatment court divisions, which are based on the drug court model that has 20 years of proven success in Missouri.

By placing veterans who have been arrested for drug- or alcohol-related offenses in an intensive, supervised program, these divisions ensure each veteran works in cooperation and collaboration with a team of professionals, including drug and mental health experts as well as representatives of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care networks, the Veterans’ Benefits Administration and veterans’ family support organizations.

Veterans court divisions are unique among treatment court programs in using volunteer veterans and active-duty soldiers as mentors. Research shows that veterans benefit the most with help from people who understand the military experience. These mentors and other professionals strive to give veterans the opportunity to live a sober and stable life while restoring their military honor and their commitment to family and community.  

The availability of veterans court services continues to grow. Currently, these services are available in St. Louis city; Boone, Jackson, Pulaski and Texas counties; and, as of last month, three counties in southwestern Missouri. In addition, a regional veterans court division serving 16 counties in southeastern Missouri is becoming a national model for treating veterans across the traditional jurisdictional lines of both courts and probation offices.

Veterans treatment court divisions are a win-win for all Missourians. In addition to helping those who have served our country regain their lives, crime is reduced and public safety is improved.  

Our veterans have protected us. We should protect them.