King County launches new Veterans Treatment Court

Monday, June 18, 2012

King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson (right) with Judge Michael Finkle, Regional Veterans Treatment Court Judge for District Court

County officials, judges, community members, and veterans gathered at the King County Courthouse today to celebrate the launch of the new Veterans Treatment Court – a specialty court for veterans involved in the criminal justice system that provides accountability while linking veterans to needed treatment and services.

Created by legislation authored by King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson and adopted unanimously by the Metropolitan King County Council in 2011, the new court opens as a component of King County District Court’s 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,” said Ferguson, sponsor of the Veterans Treatment Court. “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.”

By focusing exclusively on veterans and their unique circumstances, the new Veterans Treatment Court will be equipped to help veterans suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). The “signature injuries” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, PTSD and TBI can make it more difficult to reintegrate into civilian life and potentially trigger behaviors that draw veterans into the criminal justice system.

“The Veterans Court would not exist without the partnership of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, veterans’ advocacy groups, treatment providers, and other professionals with diverse backgrounds,” said Regional Veterans Court Judge Michael Finkle. “That partnership is a perfect example of creative problem-solving at its best.” 

The new Veterans Treatment Court follows the successful model of the County’s award-winning Drug and Mental Health therapeutic courts, which focus on treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration for low-level, non-violent offenders. The Veterans Treatment Court will connect eligible veterans to treatment and counseling services available through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA coordinates with local governments and criminal justice agencies to identify justice-involved veterans and connect them with services as part of its Veterans Justice Outreach Initiative.

“War-zone service can have a profound impact on our servicemen and women. Some face challenges reintegrating back into civilian life, which can lead to involvement in the criminal justice system,” said Kevin Devine, Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator for the Seattle Division of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. “VA Puget Sound is pleased to be partnering with King County District Court to help link struggling veterans to the treatment they need.”

King County joins Thurston, Pierce, Spokane, and Clark counties, as well as Seattle Municipal Court, in creating new specialty courts for veterans. The first in the nation was started in Buffalo, New York, in 2008. Since then, at least 80 jurisdictions across the country have established veteran treatment courts.

King County’s Veterans Treatment Court will be funded in future years by the Veterans and Human Services Levy, which was renewed by voters in 2011 with nearly 70 percent voter approval.


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