ITHACA, N.Y. —  A Veterans Treatment Court, or VTC, deals exclusively with veterans. These courts pay special attention to the stressors and mental illnesses that follow veterans home and attempt to rehabilitate veterans using structured treatment programs rather than relying on punitive sentences.

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The first VTC was created in Buffalo by Judge Robert Russell in 2008 after he noticed a spike in the number of veterans passing through his drug and mental health court. As of June 2014, there are 220 veterans courts in thirty states, according to Justice For Vets, a non-profit run by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that 60 percent of veterans in prison are battling substance abuse, which leads many to applaud veterans courts as a positive way to deal with the abundance of veterans entering the justice system, a large number of whom have sustained mental damage during their time in combat. Some worry, though, that prosecution of certain crimes—namely domestic violence—in a veterans court may result in overly lenient verdicts.

While three states have passed legislation that specifically allows veterans with mental illnesses to receive treatment instead of a prison sentence, moving these cases to veteran-exclusive courts attempts to emulate the success of drug courts by similarly creating a strict set of expectations for veterans.

Often, the conditions that VTC defendants must adhere to include sobriety, frequent court appearances, and scheduled meetings with veteran mentors or​ community organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs is an intern with the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at nbogel@ithacavoice.com.