A Veterans’ Court is a unique court that tries non-felony criminal cases involving veterans of the United States Armed Forces. These courts are designed to meet the particular needs of veterans, and they aim to try veterans convicted of crimes that may have been committed as a result of trauma and combat-related mental health disorders or substance abuse problems, to include drugs and alcohol. Many veterans return home from multiple stressful deployments abroad and are unable and unprepared to successfully reintegrate into civilian society. Sadly, the challenges of reintegrating into civilian society can sometimes lead certain individuals to criminal or destructive behavior.
The Veterans’ Court provides a veteran the opportunity to participate in a judicially supervised treatment plan with a team of specialists instead of facing incarceration. Upon successful completion of the specific criteria in his or her treatment plan, a veteran defendant may have his or her criminal charges dismissed or receive a lesser sentence for the charged crime.
The nation’s first Veterans’ Court was established in 2008 in Buffalo, New York and has been used as a model for establishments of other Veterans’ Courts in other parts of the United States.
Rhode Island First Veterans’ Court
Since the inception of the first Veterans’ Court in Buffalo, Veterans’ Courts have sprung up in almost thirty states. In April of 2011, the first Veterans’ Court of Rhode Island opened its doors at the Kent County Courthouse in Warwick, RI and continues to operate there today.
Defendants who may be eligible for referral to the Veterans’ Court in Rhode Island undergo a screening process with a social worker or psychologist. Following the screening, a preliminary determination is made as to whether the defendant meets the criteria for eligibility for acceptance to the Veterans’ Court. Those individuals who meet the criteria and voluntarily wish to enter the Veterans’ Court Program have these criminal cases removed from the normal daily criminal calendar of the Rhode Island District Court and transferred to the Veterans’ Court. Though Veterans’ Court presides in Kent County, eligible veterans undergoing prosecution in any county may successfully have their cases transferred to Veterans’ Court.
It is important for Rhode Island to have its own Veterans’ Court for several reasons. Rhode Island has contributed profoundly toward the recent military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aside from the thousands of Rhode Island residents who proudly serve in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, many of who having been deployed to recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rhode Island’s National Guard Troops have also shared in these deployments. In fact, the callback of Rhode Island’s National Guard is the second highest of all fifty states.
Recent statistics say the number of veterans living in Rhode Island who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is three times the national per capita average. Rhode Island Judges are seeing more and more of these veterans in their courtrooms, particularly on criminal matters.
Factors that lead to crimes committed to Veterans
For many military men and women, the war is not over when they return home from combat. Substance abuse and psychological health problems, like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), among veterans returning from deployment, present huge challenges for these men and women to cope with routine civilian life.
Recent research findings underscore an increasing and critical problem for U.S. Service men and women. Torrents of returning combat veterans need mental health services, but the Department of Veterans Affairs hasn’t been able to meet the demand. Unfortunately when these mental health or substance abuse problems go undetected and untreated, destructive or criminal behaviors may arise
In addition to the problem of returning soldiers suffering from PTSD or other mental health conditions, many veterans tend to face the extraneous stress of obtaining civilian employment. These veterans have the impediment to be searching for employment at a time when unemployment rates for veterans are much higher than the national average. Such overwhelming stresses like these often result in veterans turning to illegal substances in order to self-medicate and cope with stress and depression.
The Justice Department’s most recent survey of prison inmates found that an estimated 60% of the 140,000 veterans in Federal and State prisons were struggling with a substance use disorder, while approximately 25% reported being under the influence of drugs at the time of their offense.
Americans owe an enduring debt to the military men and women who serve this country, and as a result, the Veterans’ Courts have been created to meet the particular needs of veterans who have become caught up in the criminal justice system.
The Veterans’ Court Process and who is eligible to participate?
A veteran may be referred to the Rhode Island Veterans’ Court during either the arraignment or pretrial phases of his or her criminal case in District Court. Once the referral is made, the veteran’s attorney will work with the Court to establish, through a pretrial service interview and medical records investigation, whether a person is eligible to take advantage of the Rhode Island Veterans’ Court Program.
Are you a veteran who needs criminal defense?
As a former active duty prosecutor or trial counsel and current trial defense service attorney with the US Army JAG Corps, Attorney Calcagni is well versed in the prosecution and defense of all types of criminal cases, and especially familiar with the problems faced by veterans who are charged with criminal acts. His military law experience is invaluable in his ability to defend accused veterans.
Attorney Calcagni not only knows the civilian and military court systems inside and out, but he is also sensitive to the administrative consequences that a criminal conviction of any kind can have on a military career. These consequences include administrative separation, non-judicial punishment and other forms of adverse action. If you are a veteran and have been charged with a crime, contact Attorney John L. Calcagni III now. Attorney Calcagni is admitted to practice in the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces; U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, military trial courts, as well as the civilian state and federal courts in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Florida.
Contact Attorney Calcagni now for a FREE consultation at (401) 351-5100.