Utah working to implement veterans treatment courts

By Emiley Morgan, Deseret News

Published: Sun, July 6, 2014, 3:05 p.m. MDT

 The Utah State Courts are working to implement veterans treatment courts in both 3rd District and 4th District courts. These courts will be similar to the other \

The Utah State Courts are working to implement veterans treatment courts in both 3rd District and 4th District courts. These courts will be similar to the other "problem-solving courts" already in place that aim to offer treatment options.


SALT LAKE CITY — About four years ago, Rick Schwermer got a phone call from someone with the U.S. government asking how many veterans were in Utah's drug courts.

He sent an email to the state's judges who preside over the drug courts and received several responses indicating they didn't believe there were any veterans in the drug court system.

"One of the things that became apparent is it wasn't something we looked for," said Schwermer, assistant Utah State Courts administrator. "It wasn't a characteristic we knew we needed to treat differently or an experience we needed to respond to differently. But, of course, what we had was quite a few veterans in our drug courts."

Now, the Utah State Courts are working to implement veterans treatment courts in both 3rd and 4th sistrict courts. These courts will be similar to the other "problem-solving courts" already in place — mental health and drug courts — that aim to go beyond punishment by providing treatment and long-term solutions for those facing criminal charges while struggling with such issues.

"Their experience as veterans really does bring with it different problems than other drug court and mental health court participants have," Schwermer said. "They have a higher incidence of co-occurring disorders, which means they might have (post-traumatic stress disorder) as well as a substance abuse disorder. … So that's why the approach is important."

He said the court is asking questions "correctly" to better identify veterans because many who have served in the military think "veteran" solely means those who served in World War II or Vietnam. The courts will also build in a mentor system to pair veterans who land in court with other veterans who can connect to them and help them as they navigate treatment and the court process.

This was an "instinctive" decision that mirrors other veterans courts, but Schwermer said it speaks to the military's "buddy system" and simply makes sense. There is research that shows there are benefits to treating veterans separately from other mental health or drug court participants, he said.

"Their experiences and their perspectives in life can be significantly different," Schwermer explained.

The 5th District Court does not have a specific veterans court but has started to dedicate time to address cases involving veterans within its existing mental health court program.

"We owe a great debt to them," 5th District Judge John Walton said. "It's not about giving anybody a free pass. It's about considering what may have happened to them during their service."

While there are certain kinds of charges that wouldn't qualify for the separate court, the judge said the goal is to help those veterans who can be redirected and helped with treatment.

"What we're trying to accomplish is to pay respect to our armed serves and our veterans by focusing on treatment and seeing how we can help them," Walton said. "And then, when they perform well and do well in treatment, give them the reward of taking their case out of the criminal justice system."

Rick Davis, trial court executive for the 5th District Court, said the decision was made to create a separate court calendar to help veterans after some urging from those in the community. Several entities approached the court, he said, including veterans groups, behavioral health centers and the Washington County Attorney's Office.

"I think there was a recognition that we have a lot of veterans that have served and that are serving, and they come back to the area or come back from their assignments and they're having some struggles with different issues, and sometimes they run into trouble with the law," Davis said.

Both Provo's 4th District Court and Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court are in the process of creating veterans courts, Schwermer said. The 4th District's veterans court should get underway sometime this year.

Judge Samuel McVey, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, will preside over the court in Provo. In a report from the courts, McVey said he understands the veterans' perspective.

"I speak their language and know where they've been," the judge said in the report. "My role is to not only make sure they toe the line and to apply sanctions when necessary, but to motivate them."

Defense attorney Clayton Simms said he is familiar with the concept of veterans courts and praised the state's efforts to implement them.

"Veterans court is really important because these are people that contributed to society, and we owe them a debt," he said.

Simms said separating veterans into their own court also speaks to the camaraderie and shared experience often associated with those who served in the armed forces.

"They have that common interest there," he said, adding that veterans courts, like the other problem-solving courts, are a smart way to try to solve crime.

"They're a great resource to get people on the right track," Simms said. "There is a certain element of punishment to it, but you're also trying to heal that person and solve that problem and prevent future crimes."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

1. DN Subscriber
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
July 6, 2014

This veteran has mixed feelings about the proposal.

First, they need to make sure that everyone claiming to be a "veteran" actually served. There are a surprising number of people who claim to be veterans who are not, but pose as such for panhandling, job seeking and other endeavors. They need to be weeded out and sent into the regular court system, with an added charge of impersonating a veteran. (If that is no a crime, then the Legislature can add it to their list for January!)

Second, veterans are drawn from society and will include people with various problems and activities, including criminal acts. Just because they are veterans, that does not mean they deserve special treatment. Crooks need to be punished,

Third, the liberals have been pushing the meme that veterans are some sort of "damaged goods" deserving of sympathy and special treatment and are fragile and untrustworthy. Some are, through no fault of their own, and they deserve our help and support and understanding. This is especially true of combat vets, who truly deserve a break.

But, most vets really do not need special courts, because most don't engage in criminal acts and are doing fine.

2. CWV1965
Taylorsville, UT,
July 7, 2014

I agree, this seems to be an attempt to add more labels to our veterans to keep them disarmed as a threat to peace and gun rights laws. Nothing more threatening to a Socialist government gone insane than an armed patriotic veteran who can be a threat to government. There are already laws on the books and most veterans being labeled with PTSD when discharged and is reported to authorities.

This new threat to veterans as more legalization and documentation to strengthen the states rights to neutralize veterans with more labels and more forced treatments outside the VA administration. Its a civil list of dysfunctional american veterans trained in the art of war who cannot be allowed to their 2nd amendment rights. If a court can label them without proof its easy gun control legislation.

Its not about helping veterans, its about labeling and disarming veterans to criminalize them if they try to defend their rights. More labels means more controls. Instead of attacking their rights they attack their minds and training making them mental criminals at large stripped of their 2nd amendment rights in gun control laws.