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New Veterans Court Opens in Philadelphia

As more soldiers have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan, state agencies have had to develop new programs to assist those who serve our country to re-enter society. As part of this effort, the Pennsylvania Judicial System has addressed an uptick in veterans appearing in courts. In Philadelphia, a Veterans Court recently opened joining two others already up and running in Pennsylvania. The purpose of the Veterans Court is to help veterans accused of non-violent offenses whose military service may have been a factor in their conduct, such as veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or who are homeless.

The first Veterans Court was established in Buffalo, New York, and the trend seems to be sweeping the nation. A similar program was created in Nevada in March 2009, and others exist in Oklahoma, California and Alaska.

In Veterans Court, defendants appear before a judge just like in any criminal court. The difference is that their military service records are considered, and the court attempts to provide them with the tools and resources they need to get their lives back on track after returning from military service.

The Philadelphia Veterans Court has partnered with Veterans Affairs to help men and women returning from military service to get back on their feet. Veterans who appear in Veterans Court are informed of their options with regard to career assistance and medical care, as well as other programs available to military personnel.

Many defendants who appear in the Veterans Court receive reduced sentences or the charges against them may be dropped at the judge's discretion. As more veterans have had difficulty returning to everyday life after prolonged military absences, the courts have recognized that some military veterans may need a second chance as they attempt to adjust to life after the military.

In Philadelphia, veterans must be accepted into the program, and they are mentored by other veterans who help them resolve their criminal charges and make their way in civilian society. Because the program is limited to non-violent offenders, and veterans who take part in the program must remain law abiding, so the program has a solid chance of rehabilitating veterans who have had a difficult time re-acclimating to civilian life but want to make a change.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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