By Robert Herrington
After a year of work and research, plans to establish a Veterans Court moved forward after receiving funding from the Hamilton County Council on Feb. 4.
“We have the second highest number of veterans in Indiana living within the boundaries of Hamilton County,” Hamilton County Judge William Hughes said. “We also know we have one of the higher rates of services.”
Hughes said maybe as much as 35 to 40 percent of the people who are going through the jail are veterans.
“That’s 400 a year. That’s somewhere between 75 to 100 people a year may qualify for Veterans Court,” he said.
“This is a docket that basically takes people who are approved by the defense council, prosecutor, court and veterans services and provides a judiciary monitored program. That’s what veterans court does. It is similar in form and model to the therapeutic court that is drug court. It is not very similar in terms of operation; it does not meet as frequently and doesn’t require as much personnel.”
Hughes said most of the services are provided by the veterans services and the benefits of having the program are the supervision and treatment costs.
“That’s why it makes sense,” he said.
Hughes said the cost for the court is $70,000 – $40,000 from the County Option Income Tax and $30,000 from a Glick Foundation grant. Hughes said funds would be used to hire a program coordinator, educational services consultant and creating materials.
“We believe these funds will be repaid to Hamilton County within three years,” he said, adding operating funds will come from participation fees which are set at a maximum of $50 a month. “We need funds to start the court.”
The motion passed 4-2 with objections from Amy Massillamany and Fred Glynn. Each requested more statistical data and cost figures.
“I was for it, I just don’t have the figures,” Massillamany said.
Glynn added, “We don’t have enough information to make an informed decision.”
Discussion about the program stemmed from the long period of time between when it was last in front of the council and Feb. 4’s funding request. Councilor Rick McKinney said the program was before the council in early 2014 but was tabled at Hughes’ request.
“There was some discussion that needed to occur between you and the prosecutor and it would get back to us and it never did,” he said. “We dropped it from our agenda because it had been tabled for seven months. So all I am looking at is seeing this brand new.”
Once an offender is admitted to a veterans court program, the usual adversarial nature of prosecution and defense goes away and is replaced with both sides joining counselors and treatment professionals in an effort to straighten out the veteran’s life.
“I speak for the council when I say everyone is interested in helping veterans,” Councilor Brad Beaver told Hughes. “Given your long years of service to Hamilton County, I’m in favor of giving you $40,000 to get this started.”
A veterans’ court is a “special court” which is charged with trying cases of minor offenses which involve veterans of militaries, particularly those diagnosed with service-related illnesses. The first veterans’ court was established in 2008 in Buffalo and has been used as a model for establishing other courts. The goal of the program is to allow the veteran to be rehabilitated to the law abiding citizen they were before their experience in the military and combat. It also links veterans with the programs, benefits and services they have earned.