Veterans treatment courts have spread across the United States in recent years and are currently operating in the majority of states. Their foundation, emergence, and current national status are described in this article.
Veterans treatment courts (VTCs) are the most recent product of the specialized-court movement. Research in various fields has established that multifarious issues are evident in the veteran population (e.g., substance abuse, mental health problems, readjustment, homelessness, and barriers to service). The criminal justice system has always had offenders who are military veterans or currently enlisted, but contact with this population has increased due to the combination of these issues and the influx of returning veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn (OIF/OEF/OND). The VTC was established through judicial initiative for this offending population and has spread across the United States.
Judge Robert Russell’s court is one of the first, and the most publicized, VTCs to date. Russell presided over drug and mental health courts in Erie County (Buffalo, New York) and observed a rise in the number of veterans appearing on his treatment court dockets. He also recognized veterans and active-duty military personnel as a unique population that possessed specific needs that required specific services. Further, Russell noted that veterans in these treatment courts responded more positively to other veterans. With this knowledge, he convened his first VTC session in January 2008, basing it on the premise that there is a relationship between military service, personal issues, and contact with the criminal justice system. For more information, see Hon. Robert Russell, “Veterans Treatment Courts Developing Throughout the Nation,” in Future Trends in State Courts 2009, eds. C. Flango, A. M. McDowell, C. F. Campbell, and N. B. Kauder (Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts, 2009).
In general, the VTC’s mission is to divert offenders who are military veterans or currently enlisted from the traditional criminal justice system and provide them with services that target the underlying causes and correlates of their crimes (e.g., substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, housing services, and connection to benefits). This concept may sound familiar, as the VTC is a type of specialized court and is based upon the general models of drug courts and mental health courts. Russell created ten key components for VTCs (listed below) by modifying both the ten key components of drug courts and the ten elements of mental health courts: see Robert Russell, “Veterans Treatment Court: A Proactive Approach,” New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement 35 (2009): 367.