Troubled vets get help putting lives back on track

On Sunday, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law legislation sponsored by Rep. Christine Winger that will help troubled Veterans get their lives back on track.

The new law, Public Act 099-0807, requires the Chief Judge of every judicial circuit in Illinois to establish a Veterans and Servicemembers Court program.

“Often times, the men and women who have bravely served our country return home suffering from ill effects due in part to their military service, and many turn to alcohol or drugs to combat the emotional and psychological pain,” said Winger. “They risked their lives to protect our nation. We owe them the opportunity for rehabilitation by ensuring every judicial circuit provides them access to a Veterans Court.”

Veterans Courts focus directly on the needs of former and current members of the armed forces. Currently, there are 12 Veterans Court programs in Illinois. All are limited to veterans with non-violent records who are struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. Veterans who qualify and successfully comply with court orders get the treatment they need and can have charges dismissed.

As of 2014, problem-solving courts including Veterans Treatment Courts kept 1,200 offenders out of prison, saving the state of Illinois nearly $20 million.

The new law specifies that the Chief Judge of each circuit must establish a special court, but each has the discretion to decide the format of the program. Locally, each Chief Judge will decide whether their Veterans Court is a separate court or a problem-solving court, including but not limited to a drug court or mental health court. The deadline for implementing the program is January 2018.

“These Veterans Courts will provide accountability for wrongdoing and protect the safety of the public, while also providing necessary treatment for eligible veterans,” said Winger. “Most importantly, Veterans Courts have proven to be successful in keeping individuals out of trouble by treating their underlying service-related problems.”