A veterans court could be up and running in Hamilton County within 45 days after the county council on Wednesday approved startup funding.
“We are ready at basically a moment’s notice,” said Hamilton Superior 3 Judge William Hughes. He said an application for the court’s preliminary certification is being submitted to the Indiana Judicial Center.
Hughes said the Hamilton County Council approved $70,000 – $30,000 from a Glick Fund grant and $40,000 in County Option Income Tax revenue – as seed money for veterans court.
Hughes, who plans to oversee the docket, has said about $38,500 of the money will be used to hire a coordinator to screen potential candidates for diversion to the court and sign up community mentors. The courts typically engage a network of fellow veteran volunteers who help participants navigate the treatment-focused program.
Since Hughes and others began investigating the possibility of veterans court, he said numerous potential volunteers have offered to help as mentors. The program supported by user fees links participants with services available through the Veterans Administration and community resources. Successful completion of veterans court results in dismissal of low-level criminal charges.
“There are very few people who don’t believe it’s a good idea to support our veterans as they transition from overseas military service back to everyday life,” Hughes said.
In a recent six-month period, Hughes said about 160 criminal filings in Hamilton County involved veterans. Not all of those were offenses minor enough for diversion to veterans court, but he said scores of them were substance-abuse or minor, non-violent offenses that would qualify.
“It would allow them to continue to support their families and work jobs and those sorts of things, which is good for them and good for the community,” he said.
To date, the Judicial Center has certified 13 veterans courts around the state out of approximately 70 local problem-solving venues such as drug courts, mental health courts and re-entry courts.