In the case of Buffalo’s Veterans Court, those accused may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries or alcohol or drug abuse. Those who qualify to have their cases heard in Veterans Court are given a chance to get healthy and avoid the consequences of criminal court.
It works. That’s why Shinseki was here. He was observing proceedings in the court to see why it works so well. “I’m looking for ways I might encourage more opportunities like this,” he told reporters. The template has already spread, with 40 veterans courts based on the Buffalo model operating around the country.
Russell should be proud of what he has wrought. Until recent years, it was little understood how combat can damage troops. These are men and women who put their lives on the line and, as a consequence, had things go very wrong in their lives.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible for their actions, only that their actions are traceable to the influence of horrors most Americans cannot begin to imagine. They get a chance to get right, not automatic forgiveness. We do well by offering these offenders a way back into society—back into their own health—instead of running them through the usual criminal justice wringer and, in so doing, producing a convict who remains damaged.
It is pleasing, too, that this concept found its start in Buffalo. This city has seen its own share of disappointment. It knows about things going wrong. It was the right place for this humanitarian effort to get its start. With an official as highly placed as Shinseki spreading the word, it should soon find a home in many more communities across the country.