TOLEDO — A court dedicated to helping get treatment instead of jail time for veterans facing legal trouble is set to begin taking on cases in early January.
The goal of the veterans court, which will operate within Toledo’s Municipal Court, is to address underlying issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans who are charged with misdemeanors.
Those veterans going through the court must plead guilty or no contest before they can get treatment.
There are four other veterans courts in Ohio: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, Mansfield Veteran Treatment Court, Stark County Veterans Treatment Court and Youngstown Veterans Treatment Court.
The first day in Toledo’s court is scheduled for Jan. 16. Organizers have contacted police and corrections officials to find veterans who might qualify, The Blade reported.
The court will meet at least twice a month.
Judge William Connelly, who will preside over the court, has spent time trying to understand how the trauma of war can lead to trouble with the law at home. He watched a video of American servicemen driving a Humvee through Baghdad, stopping for nothing despite heavy traffic and obstacles to avoid potential danger. The video then showed a veteran at home speeding through a construction zone, growing tense in the restricted space.
“He felt trapped, paralyzed,” Connelly said. He called it “an eye-opening experience” to the triggers that can agitate veterans struggling to readjust.
Veterans’ courts target veterans who are at high risk of being repeat offenders if their underlying issues are not addressed, said Melody Powers, a Veteran Justice Outreach Coordinator for the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Michigan.
“Most offenses are directly related to their time in service or mental health,” Powers said.
Close supervision is important because judges are putting trust in Veterans Affairs to provide resources and treatment instead of sentencing, she said.
“Many participants say it was the best thing to ever happen to them,” she said. “I’ve never seen people look forward to coming to court.”