There is much documented evidence that a significant number of the Veterans who returned from the Viet Nam conflict experienced rather severe problems adjusting to civilian life. Many Veterans remained untreated for a long period of time. The VA recognizes that that many of the Veterans who have fought in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning with mental health problems. Nationally, the VA is in the process of identifying Veterans in need of services and offering treatment in a timely way. Admitting to mental health problems is not something that comes easily for the men and women who have served. The challenge for the VA is to offer interventions whenever and wherever opportunities occur. The Southern Arizona VA Health Care System (SAVAHCS) and the Tucson legal community are working jointly to engage Veterans through the City of Tucson Veteran’s Court. An early sign that a Veteran may have unaddressed problems may be when they first break the law. The Veteran’s Court offers opportunity for the VA to engage Veterans and offer treatment as an alternative to time in jail. Men and women who have served the country are entitled to the best care the VA can provide. Through the Veteran’s Court, Veterans will be offered the opportunity for both the legal and the VA systems to engage them and offer support.
The City of Tucson Veteran’s Court is a cooperative effort of the Tucson City Court and The Southern Arizona VA Health Care System (SAVAHCS). Its goal is to prevent Veterans charged with misdemeanor offenses from falling into a life of crime by engaging them in rehabilitation. Rather than arresting and jailing veteran offenders for a few days or weeks only to return them to the same type of life, this court connects them to VA resources.
The City of Tucson Veteran’s Court is a specialty court within the justice system that assists Veterans, as defined by federal law. The eligible Veterans are those having misdemeanor charges issued within the City of Tucson except for charges involving sexual offenses or violent crimes. The Veteran must be willing to accept and engage in assistance from the VA to address treatment, rehabilitation, housing needs and/or employment referrals.
Veterans who want to participate in the rehabilitative program will initially agree to participate in the program and be evaluated for eligibility by the SAVAHCS. The outcome of the case will be delayed until they have completed Veteran’s Court and treatment.
Eligible Veterans will be screened during Alternative to Jail session held Monday through Friday. Included will be those individuals who have stated to the arresting Officer that they have served in the armed forces and have been charged with eligible misdemeanor offenses which took place within the City of Tucson. The initial appearance judge will further question these individuals to find out if they wish to participate in the Veteran’s Court. Those agreeing to participate will be given a court date in one of the two monthly scheduled Veteran’s Court sessions.
Those deemed eligible and agreeing to participate will be housed at Tucson City Court and then transported to SAVAHCS. At the VA, these individuals will be screened for eligibility and if eligible set up on a treatment plan. Those accepted into the program will be seen at least monthly at the VA Court session at Tucson City Court. The treatment coordinator from the VA will also attend the Court sessions.
At the completion of their treatment plan, if the Veteran has not re-offended, the charges will be dismissed. If a Veteran re-offends while in the program, all charges will be reinstated and he/she will be removed from the program and referred to the regular calendar.
The Veteran must agree to complete and sign all necessary court documentation to also include the VA Release of Information. All information regarding medical, alcohol or drug use or treatment will be sealed and kept confidential.
Those participating in the program will be tracked at 3, 6, 9, 12 and 24 month intervals in the following categories:
- Criminal history before entering program;
- Instances of substance abuse;
- Mental health treatment;
- Combat or non combat experience;
- History in the behavioral health system in Tucson;
- Past use of VA resources and
- Time in the City of Tucson
If you need more information about the VA program, please contact Cassondra.Sepulveda@tucsonaz.gov