So the Austin American Statesman ran an article this weekend covering the new Travis County Veterans Court that I'm working with (I've been assigned to be one of the prosecutors for it- I was actually standing just out of frame, to the left of the defendant who is pictured in the photo for this article). I thought that the article was pretty good, but it didn't do a great job in emphasizing that this veterans court is supposed to be a treatment court for veterans who are suffering with PTSD and other mental illnesses.
Some of the reader comments following the article seem to express concern about the idea that veterans might be receiving special treatment from the legal system solely on the basis of their status as veterans. I'm here to tell people that we're trying pretty hard to avoid falling into that trap. Our intention was never to set up a separate legal system for veterans.
On the other hand, when veterans come back from having served in combat with some sort of mental health condition (PTSD, traumatic brain injury, etc.) that eventually leads to them getting themselves into trouble, I really do feel like we have an obligation to take these relevant factors into account and to try to get these veterans connected to services and treatment that will keep them from getting into trouble again in the future.
There were also comments following the article which seemed to suggest that we're only taking mental illness into account on cases when veterans are involved. Speaking as a prosecutor who spends most of his time on regular mental health cases (cases not involving veterans), I'm here to say that this simply isn't true. We try to take the mental health and mental abilities of each defendant into account, regardless of military service, and, when possible, we try to explore care and treatment options for anyone who comes through the justice system (after first trying to make a determination about whether the person's criminal conduct might actually have been related to their illness). The primary thing that sets the veterans court apart is that we have Veterans Administration services available as a means of providing services to defendants with a military background.
Anyway, the veterans court is new, and in a lot of ways it's still taking shape, but I definitely feel like the end of goals of the program are well worth pursuing. Watching/helping the whole thing get off the ground has definitely been an interesting process.