These courts give wayward veterans a chance

Robert B Alvarez, on vets courts

These courts give wayward veterans a chance

The first veterans court opened last year in Buffalo, N.Y.; its success stories have led to more across the country

TULSA, OKLA. — Courts: U.S. military veterans from three decades pass through Judge Sarah Smith’s courtroom here, reporting on their battles with drug addiction, alcoholism and despair. Those who find jobs and stabilize their lives are rewarded with candy bars and applause. Those who backslide go to jail.

Smith radiates an air of maternal care from the bench. As the veterans come before her, she softly asks: “How are you doing? Do you need anything?” But if a veteran fails random drug tests, she doesn’t flinch at invoking his sentence. She keeps a drill sergeant’s cap in her office.

Her court is part of a new approach in the criminal justice system: specialized courts for veterans who have broken the law. Judges have been spurred by a wave of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, battling post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries and stumbling into trouble with the law. But advocates of the courts say they also address a problem as old as combat itself.  Read More


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