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Courts for Veterans Forming Across the Nation: A New Form of Justice

Veterans charged with certain criminal offenses in Madison County, Illinois can look forward to soon having a court staffed with veterans to handle their cases. The AP reported that the suburban St. Louis county is hoping to launch the new court, which will be run entirely by volunteers, by the end of next month or early March. Veterans interested in having their cases handled by the new court will be doing so entirely by their own choice, and it's not yet clear how many vets will be taking part.

However, having a court staffed with war vets does not mean that such courts would automatically be sympathetic to the veteran parties. Instead, the goal of the court is to:

"...divert many of the veterans from the criminal courts to a program that, much like popular drug courts, will offer them treatment for underlying issues, perhaps sparing them a criminal conviction if they successfully complete the treatment."

Such a program acknowledges the particular and difficult circumstances faced by many veterans who turn to crime, ranging from drug or alcohol abuse to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other physical or mental infirmities which underlie their crimes.

It should be noted that the courts being started up will deal only with military veterans charged with nonviolent crimes. These kinds of courts should not be confused with courts that handle veterans claims for disability and related issues. Any veteran interested in filing claims relating to their service-connected disability, for survivor benefits, or for other veterans benefits, should apply at their local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) office. These claims are handled administratively, as opposed to the court system, although veterans do have resort to the court system if a decision is not made in their favor at the VA level.

These kinds of courts have been, or are being, formed in many other counties across the United States, as well. One court for veterans was slated to get started on Monday in Rochester, N.Y., that was modeled after one launched in Buffalo about a year ago, and similar courts are being considered in major Nevada and Pennsylvania counties, as well.

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