- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Some military veterans charged with low-level crimes in three central Missouri will soon be offered treatment for mental health and substance abuse problems as an alternative to prosecution and possible jail time.

After nine months of planning, the circuit court in Cole County is establishing what will be the state’s seventh veterans’ treatment court and the second in mid-Missouri. The program is expected to begin operating in about two months, the Jefferson City News Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1pW0i5j ).

“Instead of treating them normally through the criminal system - where they don’t get the services they need - what we’ll do is put them into a specialty court where they will have treatment through the Veterans Administration,” Presiding Judge Pat Joyce of the 19th Judicial Circuit said Wednesday.

People will be screened before being accepted into the Veterans Court. Once accepted, they should expect to spend about 15 months “seeing us regularly, in court,” Joyce said. “They will be seeing the probation officer regularly. They’ll be getting all kinds of help within the system - the veterans’ service organizations will be mentors.

“They’ve made the commitment that there will be some veteran who will walk with every new veteran to get them through the problems they’re having, help them get where they need to go and address all these issues,” she said.

Veterans often have special needs and issues that traditional treatment courts don’t handle, Joyce said, including service-connected experiences that cause personality changes, or change the way they react to stressful situations.

Jackson County established such a court in 2012 for veterans charged with non-violent offenses in the Kansas City area.

County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said at the time she was convinced of the need for the program after police shot and killed a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran who brandished a firearm. The veteran had been preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

The man’s family said he had returned from an earlier deployment with a markedly changed personality and had been struggling with various problems.

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Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, https://www.newstribune.com

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