Allen County will gavel in its veterans’ court Nov. 12 and join a growing list of Indiana jurisdictions creating the problem-solving court especially to serve military veterans.
The court in Fort Wayne is the result of a collaborative effort by Allen Circuit Judge Tom Felts and Allen Superior Judge Francis Gull.
“It makes sense economically, it makes sense for public safety, it makes sense to reduce contact with the justice system,” Felts said of the new veterans’ court. “It makes sense all around.”
Veterans’ courts have been popping up around Indiana for the last two or three years, according to Mary Kay Hudson, problem-solving court administrator at the Indiana Judicial Center. They typically appear in counties where judges have championed their implementation and local governments have appropriated the necessary funding.
In the mental health court and drug court that Felts and Gull oversee respectively, each has encountered a number of veterans and realized the need for a court geared toward these individuals. The judges have seen the unique issues and needs of this population while, at the same time, they knew the Department of Veterans Affairs was providing more services in the northeast part of Indiana.
The pair began work separately to establish a veterans’ court but joined together once they learned of the other’s efforts.
Felts explained the court is “designed to increase the available benefits and services we can provide to the veterans.”
To that end, the Allen County Veterans’ Court has secured a liaison from the Veteran Justice Outreach Office who will work with the court and assist in finding resources and services for the military veterans.
Individuals who have served in the military can suffer from the same substance abuse and mental health issues as non-veterans, Hudson said. However, their struggles can be complicated by combat injuries like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries and chronic pain.
Veterans’ courts that follow the drug court model have reported positive outcomes including reduced recidivism and lower costs, Hudson said.
Of the veterans coming into the problem-solving courts in Allen County, Felts estimated two-thirds had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The remainder served primarily in Vietnam and the first Gulf War.