The cost of war is great, both during and after the fighting ends. When our veterans return home heroes, it is easy to overlook the toll that service has taken upon them. Approximately half of our veterans that returned from Iraq and Afghanistan are currently diagnosed with PTSD (1 in 5), addiction (1 in 6), or other mental health conditions. All too many times, these issues have resulted in criminal convictions for veterans. Currently, there are 700,000 veterans in the criminal justice system.

For decades, our criminal justice system has relied upon punishment to correct the behavior of individuals who break the law. In 2008, Buffalo, New York became the first city in the United States to create a Veteran’s Court as an alternative to incarceration. After seeing the success in Buffalo, Veteran’s Courts have spread throughout the United States.

If approved by the court, in lieu of incarceration, veterans who have committed non-violent misdemeanors and felonies, who may be suffering from addiction, mental health issues, or other combat-related disorders, are eligible to participate in Veteran’s Court. This applies to veterans, regardless if they were honorably discharged or not.

Veteran’s Court operates similarly to drug courts, where there is a collaborative effort between the Judge, District Attorney, defense attorney, case workers, and mentors to provide help to the veteran struggling with addiction. Veteran’s Courts are a “one-stop shop,” linking veterans with the programs, benefits, and services they have earned. This provides our veterans with a highly structured environment, which is perfect for people who have history in the armed forces. Through treatment and therapy, Veteran’s Court helps veterans recover in ways that incarceration could not.

On June 5th, 2019, Onondaga County started its own Veteran’s Court. Now, veterans who are facing non-violent felony or misdemeanor charges in Onondaga County may be approved to enter Veteran’s Court where they will receive the help they need. Examples of charges that a veteran may have transferred from Onondaga County Court to the Veteran’s Court include Aggravated DWI, DWI, and DWAI Drugs.

As Americans and leaders of the free world, we have a lot to be thankful for. The creation of Veteran’s Court is a step in the right direction towards helping the men and women that we owe our freedom to. Rather than criminalizing our struggling veterans, Veteran’s Court provides them with the help they deserve.