King County launches court for veterans

King County officials gathered this week to celebrate the launch of the new Veterans Treatment Court.

The specialty court is for veterans involved in the criminal justice system. The court provides accountability while linking veterans to needed treatment and services.

This special court was created with legislation introduced by King County Councilman Bob Ferguson last year, and will be a part of the county's already existing District Court Regional Mental Health Court.

"Veterans Treatment Court will help veterans who are struggling to reintegrate into civilian life after returning from the front lines of war," Ferguson said. "Building on the success of veterans' courts around the nation, King County's court will connect veterans with needed treatment and services, reduce recidivism, and improve lives. We owe it to our service men and women."

For veterans, especially those of Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the most common issues they deal with are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). Both conditions can make it difficult for veterans to reintegrate into civilian life. Sometimes when veterans encounter difficulty with reintegration, those suffering from PTSD or TBI will turn to drugs and alcohol — and the troubles those can bring.

According to the county, the new court will "focus on treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration for low-level, non-violent offenders." Veterans who find themselves in a rough patch will be connected to the appropriate services through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

King County joins Thurston, Pierce, Spokane, and Clark counties, as well as the Seattle municipal court system, in having a specialty court for veterans in these kinds of circumstances. The first court like this was created in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, and at least 80 jurisdictions across the country have created the same kind of court.

The new court will be funded from the Veterans and Human Services Levy, which was renewed in 2011 with 70 percent approval by voters.

King County Executive Dow Constantine felt that the announcement of the new court on Flag Day was an appropriate time to announce the new initiative.

"It is fitting, on this Flag Day, that we honor our veterans by launching this specialty court to link those dealing with war-related traumas with the treatment and services they need," he said.

"This is an idea whose time has come and I am proud my office will be part of the team serving veterans in this way," said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. "The hallmarks of Veterans Court will be USA: Understanding, Support and Appreciation."

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