Wood & Smith Legal Services, LLC

Veterans Courts in Alabama

VETERANS COURT copy

Recently, I attended a presentation on Veterans Courts in Alabama.  As of this writing, fifteen active Veterans Courts operate in Alabama, while ten Veterans Courts are in the planning stages.  With sixty-seven counties in the state, there is still a long way to go in order to offer Veterans Courts in every county.  Below are some statistics I learned during the presentation.

  • 2.5 million U.S. veterans have deployed to the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq
    • 40,000 of these veterans are from Alabama
      • 30,000 of these veterans from Alabama have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • In 2014, the VA spent $50 million to treat veterans with PTSD
  • Most veteran suicides occur within the first 4 weeks of returning from combat
  • Veteran suicide rates increase as veterans turn 60 years old
  • Unemployment rates of veterans are higher than unemployment rates in the average U.S. population
  • In 2014, the number of veterans committing suicide was greater than the number of service members killed in combat
  • About 420,000 veterans live in Alabama

Some of the statistics were surprising.  I was especially sad to learn about the high number of suicides among veterans.

Who is a Veteran?

There is no clear, agreed upon definition, at least in Alabama.  For instance, in Shelby County, it is anyone who took the oath to become a service member.

However, an Alabama statute defines a veteran as “any person … who served on active duty … during any war in which the United States has been engaged, and who shall have been discharged or released from such services under conditions other than dishonorable.”  Ala. Code § 31-5-1(4) (1975).

Another  code section of Alabama law seems to define a veteran as someone who “honorably served and is eligible as a former member of the U.S. military to be treated by the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”  Ala. Code § 12-17-226.3 (1975).

Veterans Courts

Veterans Courts are a hybrid between drug courts and mental health courts.  Some of these courts for veterans are called Veterans Courts, and some are called Veterans Treatment Courts.

Veterans Courts consist of the following team members:

  • Drug Court team members
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Representatives- These members are integral because during the court appearance, they also help veterans schedule VA appointments, access service records, and provide information on veterans benefits, among other issues.
  • Veteran Mentors

There are some specific benefits to veterans for completing Veterans Court.  If a veteran is incarcerated for more than 60 days, the veteran may lose all of his or her VA benefits.  Veterans Courts allows veterans facing jail time to make bond and be supervised by Veterans Courts in an effort to help veterans retain their benefits.  Additionally, the recently enacted expungment law in Alabama allows criminal charges against veterans to be dismissed if the veteran successfully completes the treatment program.

The first Veterans Court established in the U.S. grew out of a judge’s experience with a veteran in Drug Court.  Veterans Court first began in Buffalo, New York, in 2008.

Right now, Alabama is the only state with a statewide campaign to have Veterans Courts in every county.

The Future

AlaVetNet is a project aimed at streamlining access to veteran’s services.  Once it becomes established, hopefully, it really will make accessing services easier because right now, veterans are faced with a confusing maze when applying for disability compensation, pension, educational benefits, and other services for veterans.

According to the presentation, the greatest indicator of future criminality is homelessness.  By working to help veterans through Veterans Courts, we may be able to prevent homelessness within this population and thereby reduce the number of veteran-related crimes, which will benefit everyone.

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