- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - Harris County commissioners have unanimously approved a new court for veterans charged in misdemeanor crimes.

The court, authorized Tuesday, will begin hearing cases in November regarding veterans whose criminal behavior stems from combat-related trauma, the Houston Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/1ra4XGm ). The court can serve as many as 30 clients at a time.

Proponents say the court will help local veterans struggling with the mental and physical trauma of their service abroad.

The program allows for the veterans to receive medical help for their underlying conditions and avoid a criminal record or jail time.

“A lot of men and women coming back from deployment have given everything they can to our country, and are suffering the repercussions of a high stress (tour of duty). They need our help now,” said Judge Mike Fields, who will be overseeing the program.

Fields said one motivation for establishing the court was seeing how military service had affected his father, a Vietnam War veteran, and his sister, a veteran of the first Gulf war.

“This is a work of love, because I’ve seen what my own family has gone through, and I know what it takes to recover from being in a combat situation,” he said.

The new Harris County court will hear cases of veterans arrested for class A or B misdemeanors who can trace the event back to a brain injury, mental illness or mental disorder that originated from serving in a combat zone, based off agreements between prosecutors and the overseeing judge.

The first veteran’s court was established six years ago in Buffalo, New York. Since then, more than 150 similar courts or programs have been set up across the nation.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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