From Hendersonville Times-News by Rebecca Walter
Henderson County’s population needs don’t currently call for establishing a specific, special court for military veterans who get in trouble, according to Chief District Court Judge Athena Brooks. At least not yet.
Veterans courts are typically for veterans who have been charged with minor crimes and offenses. The goal is to help veterans deal with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance abuse and other problems. The hope is that it will decrease the likelihood of a repeat offense and save taxpayer money.
The treatment is part court and part program, generally. The closest veterans court is in Buncombe County, which started its program a couple of years back.
Counties have to have certain programs and facilities in place to be able to have a court, especially in the fields of mental health and other support services.
Brooks said the veteran population in Henderson County is generally older, and most don’t go through the court system that often.
“We don’t have many veterans coming through (the court system) currently,” Brooks explained. “The few that do come through, if they are already with the (Veterans Affairs in Asheville), I order them to cooperate with treatments they are getting there.”
The community’s needs could change over the coming years, the judge said.
“I think we could see the population’s needs expand,” Brooks added. “This is the longest war we’ve been in. People have seen things that they are going to need services for. (The court system) is currently monitoring the needs as they increase.”
Brooks’ military service gives her a unique perspective. She is a former JAG office and currently serves in the National Guard.
“I think it makes a difference when you have the judge or the lawyers being a veteran themselves,” she said. “It makes you aware of some of the special circumstances of a veteran when they come into the court system.”
The number of veterans courts in North Carolina has been expanding since the first began in Harnett County in 2013. They are typically found in larger communities or those closer to military installations.
Specialty courts can be beneficial for smaller communities like Henderson County that don’t currently justify having a specific veterans court, Brooks said. These courts can be generic, covering courts for veterans and drug offenders. The all-encompassing court particularly allows communities to be able to tailor them to their own needs.
A few pieces of legislation still need to be put into place before specialty courts can move forward in communities, Brooks said.
As for funding, that will have to come from already existing state funds, Brooks said, particularly those set aside for mental health services and probation.
“I hope that we don’t ever need a veterans court here, because that means that there are a lot more veterans coming through court,” Brooks said. “If we do, I know the community and veterans will step up and help any way that they can.”