The cast of television’s “The West Wing” has joined forces with the non-profit Justice For Vets to launch a powerful public service announcement supporting Veterans Treatment Courts. VA Secretary Bob McDonald joined Veterans advocates and the cast, including Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Dulé Hill and Mary McCormack, at the video’s premiere Tuesday night.
Former “The West Wing” cast member Melissa Fitzgerald, who now serves as senior director of Justice For Vets, launched the effort to raise awareness and expand the use of Veterans Treatment Courts. The specialized court programs are recognized for their innovative and successful approach for diverting Veterans suffering from substance abuse and/or a mental health conditions away from incarceration and into treatment.
Veterans Treatment Courts allow jurisdictions to serve a large segment of the justice-involved Veteran population as opposed to having Veterans appear before judges who may or may not have an understanding of their unique problems. Because a Veterans court judge handles numerous Veterans’ cases and is supported by a strong, interdisciplinary team, the judge is in a much better position to exercise discretion and effectively respond than someone who only occasionally hears a case involving a Veteran defendant.
“Partnering with judges and courts that want to identify Veteran defendants and get them connected to needed VA treatment is how we best serve them,” said McDonald. “These programs are a perfect example of communities coming together to serve Veterans in a holistic way with VA care as a vital component. If we are going to serve Veterans – all of them who have put so much on the line for all of us – then we’re going to work together to see that they have the best services and health care available. ”
These specialized courts currently serve more than 13,000 Veterans who would otherwise face incarceration. The new public service announcement urges the public to support the effort to establish more programs in order to meet the urgent and growing need.
“Veterans Treatment Courts are spreading across the country because they work, but there is an urgent and growing need for more,” said Fitzgerald. “Justice For Vets is grateful to the incredible cast of the ‘The West Wing’ for supporting this life-saving program and urging the public to get involved. Our hope is that this PSA inspires millions to join Justice For Vets in the mission to put a Veterans Treatment Court within reach of every Veteran in need.”
During the event, McDonald joined three Veterans on stage for a panel discussion about their experience with Veterans Treatment Courts. Harris County, Texas, District Court Judge Marc Carter, an Army Veteran, described what led him to create the first Veterans court in Texas.
“I saw too many Veterans cycling through the system without ever getting the treatment they clearly needed,” he said. “By creating Veterans treatment court and partnering with our local VA Medical Center, we are able to serve a large population of Veterans and connect them to the appropriate treatment and benefits.”
Tommy Rieman is one such Veteran. Rieman graduated from the Fayetteville, North Carolina, Veterans Treatment Court in 2014 and is now the executive director of a non-profit serving injured and wounded Veterans.
“Veterans Treatment Court gave me the tools I needed to live a healthy, productive life. Thanks to Veterans Treatment Court, I am reunited with my family and am working to support my fellow Veterans. Veterans Treatment Court saved my life.”
VA regularly works with Veterans Treatments Courts across the country through its Veterans Justice Outreach initiative. In addition to regular court hours, judges attend VA stand downs to work through legal issues facing some Veterans.
While VA cannot provide legal services for Veterans, there are a number of resources available. If you need legal assistance, please see www.statesidelegal.org/findinghelp or contact your local Veterans Justice Outreach specialist who may know of community resources for legal assistance.
More information about Veterans Treatment Courts is available from Justice for Vets.