Our Opinion: Veterans court concept advances

Does a proposal to establish a specialty court for military veterans have merit?

We believe so, but some caution must be considered.

The House approved — on a 149-1 vote — and sent to the Senate a proposed bill by State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, to create a veterans court.

Barnes bill would allow “a circuit court to establish a veterans treatment court to dispose of criminal cases which stem from substance abuse or mental illness of military veterans or current military personnel.”

The concept is similar to specialty courts designed for drug and alcohol offenders. In Cole County and elsewhere in Missouri, these courts have demonstrated their worth by guiding defendants from addiction to recovery, rather than costly incarceration.

Barnes points out military veterans may suffer physical and mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress, as a result of their service. When those disorders lead to illegal activity, Barnes said “we owe them the effort to get them help.”

In his February 2011 State of the Judiciary address while he still was chief justice, Supreme Court Judge William Ray Price Jr. urged the Legislature to support the concept, saying: “From a moral, a fiscal and a law-andorder perspective, drug courts, DWI courts, juvenile diversion programs, veterans courts, re-entry courts and community supervision strategies are better investments of taxpayer money, for their target populations, than prisons.”

We believe Barnes’ proposal is not simply riding a wave of popular veterans issues; instead, it is worthy when judged on its own merits.

Military veterans who have served our nation, and suffer consequences as a result, deserve a fair chance to be healed.

Like a recovering addict, a veteran who is treated becomes a contributor, rather than a cost, to society.

A virtue of the legislation is it allows, but does not require, a circuit court to establish a specialty court for veterans. Courts will maintain the flexibility to base a decision on resources, caseload and other considerations.

A question that arises is: How many specialty courts will lawmakers try to establish and at what point does such specialization become counter-productive?

A veterans court does not move beyond the tipping point.

This enabling legislation has potential to enable the judiciary to help military veterans continue their service in a civilian role.

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