Based on successes in some major American cities such as Philadelphia, Fairfax County court officials are in the process of establishing a new criminal court for military veterans.
The “Veteran Treatment Court” would be the first in Northern Virginia but some similar courts already exist and others are also currently being planned throughout the U.S.
The new court would address a docket made up exclusively of military veterans who have had brushes with the law and who may require special services helping them to transition from military life back into the civilian world.
The new court would take some of the burden off of an already overloaded Fairfax County court system by separating veterans’ cases and dealing with them in the new court, where the veterans could then be referred to treatment centers and other services equipped to aid them with any underlying issues they may have.
“Veterans come before me and other judges with mental health and substance abuse issues that often require treatment,” said Fairfax County General District Court Chief Judge Penney Azcarate. “We are hoping to address this issue, seek proper treatment, and then possibly turn the docket into a mental health docket that would eventually address more than just veterans.”
According to Laurie Neff, a former Marine who now is director of George Mason University’s Clinic for Legal Assistance to Servicemembers, Virginia is only the nation’s 12th most populous state but the 6th largest in the number of military veterans. She estimates that there are 850,000 veterans in the Commonwealth, with 10 percent of those residing in Fairfax County.
“There are approximately 85,000 veterans in Fairfax County,” she said. “That is the largest population by county in the state.”
According to Neff, there are 76 veterans currently incarcerated in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center with 43 percent of them having been sentenced for violent crimes. The top three offenses are assaults, grand larceny and sexual assaults.
Linda Citroen, author of the book Your Next Mission; A Personal Branding Guide For The Military-To-Civilian Transition, part of the issue may be that military veterans are coming out of a world whose values are the exact opposite of the corporate world, and veterans may not be able to obtain gainful and satisfying employment.
According to her book, highly skilled, disciplined and experienced post-9/11 veterans under 30 are unemployed at twice the rate of their non-veteran peers.
“Many veterans are coming out of a culture that is the very antithesis of corporate culture,” she said. “They are used to military structure and routine and a strong military value system. Corporate world rules are often unwritten and some values that are espoused in mission statements and the like are not always what are practiced. Many post-9/11 veterans often take the first job available to them, then find they are not comfortable in those positions and become frustrated and agitated.”
According to statistics presented at the presentation, as many as 10 percent of the national prison population are U.S. military veterans.
Judge Azcarate said the new Fairfax court is scheduled to launch Jan. 1, 2015.