- Associated Press - Thursday, August 7, 2014

NASHUA, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire’s first criminal court docket dedicated to veterans with mental health and substances abuse issues got underway Thursday with three veterans facing a judge sitting before a backdrop of military flags.

Nashua District Judge James Leary welcomed the veterans and congratulated Army veteran Brandon Bastille for being the new court’s first client.

“I don’t know if that’s a congratulations or not,” said Bastille, who served from 2006 to 2011 and is facing a charge of driving while intoxicated after being arrested in Hudson last year.

Attorney Joe Tessier, police prosecutor for Hudson, told Leary a hearing was held in Hudson on the drunken driving charge. “We came up with a solution to address other issues,” Tessier said of Bastille’s referral to the Veterans Behavioral Health Track docket - the new court’s formal title.

If all goes according to a plan hammered out over the course of 18 months by Leary and others dedicated to helping veterans, Bastille will wind up in treatment, not jail.

Diane Levesque, who runs the Veterans Justice Outreach program at the VA Medical Center in Manchester, acts as liaison between the court and service providers. She is helping Bastille work through assessment and benefits issues, and Leary told Bastille to return to court in two weeks to report his status.

Tessier also referred Army veteran William Santana to the veterans’ docket on a raft of misdemeanor charges, including criminal mischief and threatening. Tessier told the judge that Santana recently completed a six-week, inpatient drug treatment program tailored to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Levesque is setting him up with daily substance abuse sessions and other counseling.

“You’ve got to follow up on these appointments,” Leary told Santana.

“Roger that, your honor,” the veteran said crisply.

The number of veterans’ courts nationwide has swelled to about 160 since the first one was founded in Buffalo, New York, in January 2008.

In discussing the New Hampshire program recently, Levesque said she has an active caseload of more than 100 veterans with pending criminal charges and has handled upward of 500 cases since she took over the program in January 2012.

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