Our Opinion: Veterans courts are goal worth pursuing – again

News Tribune editorial

Credit a state representative from Jefferson City for not retreating from a good idea.

State Rep. Jay Barnes, a Republican, again has filed a proposal to create a specialty court for military veterans.

A veterans court would address issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and mental health treatment. If an eligible veteran completes a prescribed program, criminal charges could be modified, reduced or dismissed.

The proposed court would follow the successful example of drug courts, which promote recovery as an alternative to incarceration or recidivism for alcohol and drug offenders.

We supported Barnes’ measure after it was introduced in the past session. We were hardly alone; the bill passed the House by a vote of 149-1, but did not come to a vote in the full Senate.

In announcing plans to renew his push for veterans courts, Barnes pointed to positive examples in other states — including Texas and California — that have embraced the concept.

Missouri government spends significant amounts of tax dollars building, maintaining and operating prison facilities.

We adhere to the sentiment voiced years ago by former Missouri Supreme Court Judge William Ray Price Jr., who said we as a state must get smarter, rather than tougher, about crime.

Barnes offered his perspective on that concept when he said: “We know that these veterans, based on their service, are capable of being contributing members to society.” He added: “They deserve mental health and substance abuse treatment to get their lives on track, so that they’re not carrying around scars from military service that end up putting them in prison and causing them a whole lot of heartache and money.”

Veterans courts, like drug courts, are not for every offender and outcomes are not always perfect.

But every success restores someone to a productive life and saves taxpayers the high costs of incarceration.

From a moral, societal and governmental perspective, we believe that’s a goal worth pursuing.

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