They Fight For Us, Can We Show the Same Respect? A Call for Veterans Courts in Maryland

By Nicole Rush, CFCC Student Fellow 2014-2015

In 2012, there were over 1 million American soldiers in active duty across the world.[1] Luckily this number has dramatically decreased in the recent years, but that leaves the United States with a growing number of veterans returning from war trying to readjust to civilian life. Veterans have to deal with the tragedies that they witnessed while serving their country, and most fail to seek any help to deal with what they experienced. Issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder and substance abuse are common problems faced by these returning veterans. These problems have been linked to increased criminal behavior, landing a number of our veterans in our criminal justice system. The men and women who were brave enough to fight for our country now face time in prison.

To combat this threat of prison, Judge Robert Russell developed the first Veterans Court in Buffalo, New York, in 2008.[2] Veterans Courts are problem-solving courts aimed at helping veterans deal with psychological problems resulting from war, while still holding the veteran accountable for the criminal behavior. In areas that have Veterans Courts, veterans who enter the criminal justice system have the option to accept treatment from Veterans Courts. Once accepted into the VC treatment program, the adversarial roles of the attorneys dissolve, and the parties become a team focused on helping the veteran. The team develops a plan of treatment, including mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, and help with employment, housing, and education. The veteran is also paired with a peer mentor who can help the veteran deal with problems that are unique to serving in active combat. The judge leads the treatment team and ensures that the veteran is following the treatment. The whole process is individualized for each veteran and looks for a holistic approach incorporating a wide array of services.[3] Everyone on the team is focused on helping the veteran succeed through the program and get the necessary help he/she needs.

While the concept of Veterans Courts is still relatively new, the impact of the courts has been favorable. For example, in Pennsylvania, those participating in the Veterans Court program had a recidivism rate of one percent.[4] Similarly in New York, veterans had a recidivism rate of 40 percent when not in a veterans treatment program, and that number dropped to 6 percent for those veterans who completed the treatment program.[5]

Maryland has approximately 476,000 veterans residing in the state today.[6] In 2012, Governor Martin O’Malley approved a task force to research the effectiveness of Veterans Courts.[7] The task force strongly recommended a pilot program for Veteran Courts in Maryland, and a Veterans Court should start in 2015 in Prince George’s County.[8] Unfortunately, this is all dependent upon funding. While funding is a problem for all programs across the state, I believe that this program is so beneficial for the veterans across Maryland that this program needs to get started so veterans can get the help they deserve. These people have put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. We should be able to provide necessary services to help veterans return to civilian life.


[2] Hon. C. Phillip Nichols Jr., Veterans Courts: A New Concept for Maryland, 47 Md. B.J. 43, 44 (2014)

[3] See generally Nichols, supra note 2;

[4] Nichols, supra note 2, at 49.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 44.

[7] Beth Totman, Seeing the Justice System Through a Soldier’s Eyes: A Call to Action for Maryland to Adopt a Veterans Treatment Court System, 16 J. Health Care L. & Pol’y 431, 434 (2013).

[8] Nichols, supra note 2, at 46.

One thought on “They Fight For Us, Can We Show the Same Respect? A Call for Veterans Courts in Maryland

  1. As you thoughtfully pointed out, the establishment and subsequent development of the Veterans Court system is an important concept that requires a necessary presence in the State of Maryland, and for that matter, every State. I could not agree more. In part, I believe that these courts did not exist prior to 2008 because, as you also mentioned, many Veterans that commit crimes experience posttraumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. For this reason, Veterans have likely been exposed to substance abuse and mental health court programs. However, my inclination is that Veterans develop these disorders and behaviors after encountering traumatic experiences while proudly serving and protecting our Country. For this reason, the establishment of the Veterans Court system is necessary so that these individuals can relate to and share stories with others that have served and been through similar experiences. It would come as no surprise to discover that staff members in the Veterans Court system, whether judge, social worker, or psychologist, are Veterans themselves. We must make greater efforts to transition Veterans back into the everyday life that we are accustomed to. I believe that the actual presence of Veterans in the Veterans Court system will do exactly that. In fact, a gentleman and former Navy Seal by the name of Chris Kyle did this on his own. After completing multiple tours throughout the Middle East, Kyle founded his own security company and made strong efforts to relate to and ameliorate the mental condition of troops returning from duty. Often times, Kyle would rent out ranches and take these Veterans shooting, among other things. Unfortunately for Kyle and this Country as a whole, one of these Veterans was so mentally ill that he turned the barrel of his rife on Kyle and his counterpart. This tragedy represents the notion that Veterans Courts are completely necessary. A lot of these individuals need help and we should be willing to lend a hand in any way possible. This is a great blog, Nicole.

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