A veteran is someone who has proven they understand discipline.
They know how to follow orders.
They get what it means to be a small part of a larger operation, and why every part has a job to do.
That means that when they get in trouble with the law, maybe they aren’t your average accused. Maybe there is a better way to handle someone who knows what it is like to really serve others than a jail sentence and a record.
Westmoreland County will be trying that out with a new veterans court program in May.
“I think we have a need here,” said Common Pleas Court Judge Tim Krieger, a veteran himself, who will preside over the new court.
And that need is growing. Seven years ago, an attempt to form a similar court didn’t go far, in part because there weren’t enough of the low-level crimes that qualified a veteran for participation. Today there is wider eligibility and officials believe it will succeed.
But why do we need a veterans court?
The programs first started in 2008 in Buffalo, N.Y. Pittsburgh came on board shortly thereafter, according to the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Like drug court or a mental health program, the idea was to address minor crimes by looking at the underlying causes. As more veterans have dealt with conflicts like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are more injuries, more pain and more adjustment that may be manifesting in criminal courts.
“This is a way to let a person’s service not have a negative impact on their life,” said Westmoreland county Office of Veterans Affairs Director Matt Zamosky.
There are 28,000 veterans in Westmoreland County.
A veterans court is a way to acknowledge that when the tour of duty is over, there are scars that remain — sometimes invisible and sometimes not — that can make it hard to just go back to the life that was there before. Via volunteers and mentors, not to mention understanding and guidance, the court can show that even when the tour is over, no one is left behind.