SLO County's Veterans Treatment Court program begins Friday

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJune 12, 2013 

Starting Friday, San Luis Obispo Superior Court will have advocates to assist veterans in the criminal justice system who suffer from traumatic military experiences.

Called the Veterans Treatment Court, the program provides Veterans Affairs staff in court as well as mentoring and assistance for veterans outside the courts to ensure that they get proper treatment and fulfill court-ordered requirements.

The court will begin Friday at 9 a.m. in Department 6 of San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

The work will be done by a federally provided veterans justice coordinator and trained volunteer mentors. The goal of the program is to rehabilitate veterans, reduce recidivism and cut costs, said Dana Cummings, county Veterans Services officer.

“This program is designed to help veterans who want to correct the underlying cause of his or her unlawful activity,” Cummings said. “It is post-plea and is done in addition to any mandatory requirements an infraction may require.”

An estimated 65 percent of all veterans who have served after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks suffer from some level of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or sexual trauma, which can make it difficult for them to cope with civilian life and can lead to violations of the law.

“When our men and women come back from battle with battle scars that lead to crisis, we must do everything we can to assist them in returning to a productive and healthy life here at home,” said Dan Dow, a prosecutor with the District Attorney’s office who is also an Iraq war veteran.

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt a resolution endorsing the Veterans Treatment Court when it meets June 18. The annual cost of the program to the county is estimated to be $21,505 due to additional court staff time.

The nation’s first Veterans Treatment Court was started in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008. San Luis Obispo is the 15th county in the state to establish such a court.

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