Northport VA Medical Center
Veteran Courts Grant Second Chance to Veterans
Northport VAMC – Since 2011, more than 25 veterans have been given a new lease on life thanks to the Suffolk and Nassau Veterans Courts, a special branch of the court system on Long Island for non-violent offenses.
“The Goal of the Veterans Court is to assist veterans by diverting them from the traditional criminal justice system and providing them with the tools that they need to live productive and law-abiding lives,” said the Honorable Judge John Toomey, Presiding Judge of the Suffolk Veterans Court at the 2nd graduation of that program on June 16, 2013. “We recognize and appreciate the great service to our nation that these veterans have provided, but also recognize that the cost of such service is sometimes quite high,” he said.
If a veteran is referred to the program, he must plead guilty to the charges, but rather than serve a standard sentence, he also must commit to a treatment plan that can take six to 18 months to accomplish with the aim of getting his life back on track.
“After the District Attorney refers a veteran’s case to Veterans Court, they are assessed and given a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses their specific needs,” said Eric Bruno, LCSW with Veterans Justice Outreach. “A typical program may include inpatient or outpatient care, drug rehabilitation, anger management and whatever else the veteran needs to become healthy, both physically and mentally.”
In addition to treatment, each veteran in the program is assigned a veteran mentor from Suffolk County Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America (Chapter 11) that serves as a life coach as they work their way through the judicial system.
After successful completion of the program, the veteran can see a reduction or even complete dismissal of the charges against him. Failure to complete the program, however, does carry some steep penalties because the veteran has already pleaded guilty. Not completing the program can mean receiving the full sentence for the crime regardless of the amount of time already spent in the rehabilitation program.
While there have been a few cases of veterans not being able to complete their required treatment plan, most have taken their second chance and made positive changes with their lives, a second chance that Judge Toomey believes is richly deserved.
“Were it not for the service of our veterans, the life we know here in Suffolk County and throughout these United States would not be what it is today,” said Toomey. “I am proud to be a part of a system that recognizes the contributions of our veterans and endeavors to help them deal with the long lasting effects of their service to our country through treatment, rehabilitation, education and training.”