Southampton Vet Court Proposed

“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”—Tim O’Brien

Many of our troops will be coming home soon and some, unfortunately, will have difficulties assimilating back into civilian life. No one is more aware of this fact than Southampton Town Justice Edward D. Burke, a Marine Corps veteran.

Judge Burke, who has served 18 years on the bench, believes a veterans’ court in Southampton is an excellent way for the community to help struggling veterans acclimate back into civilian life. Many of these veterans are carrying home shrieking memories of combat and loss, developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or physical handicaps that burden our veterans. The burdens, in some cases, lead them to do things out of their nature. These young soldiers are “trained to do combat, trained for a weapon, trained to use weapons,” says Judge Burke. This veterans’ program is about “preventing them from getting over the level.”

Although a veteran’s court would be new to Southampton, it is not a new concept. There are over 70 veterans’ courts throughout the United States, including one that opened last February in Central Islip. A veterans’ court would not cost taxpayers any additional money, as it would operate as needed. This philosophy of court is similar to the other specialized courts for drug, alcohol, and domestic violence abusers, where the district attorney and the defense would enter an agreement where the subject would enter counseling or community service programs as an alterative to being incarnated. Once the subject has completed his or her counseling or community service, over an extended period, their sentence will be converted to a conditional discharge. Though the veterans’ program will only cover certain behaviors, such as shoplifting, battery, drug abuse, and other offenses. DWIs, for example, would be excluded from this court’s jurisdiction.

Psychology experts estimate a minimum of 15% to 20%, or possibly more of our veterans, will return home with some sort of psychological gravity related to their war experience, the things they carry. Katherine Mitchell of East End Counseling LLC is all about acclimating former veterans back into their communities. Mitchell, who is working on her doctorate in this matter, advocates, “Specialty court combines the best of the criminal justice system with the best treatment.” It is about active engagement for our veterans; it’s not beneficial for them to be removed from society into a prison setting where their out-of-character behavior continues to manifest. For Mitchell the veterans’ program is twofold: it promotes public safety and provides help for the individual.

A veterans’ court program is not offering veterans special treatment, but rather a lawful setting that takes into account the experiences these men and women have lived through. This approach fundamentally consists of two key elements: treatment and accountability. Veterans’ court will offer alternatives to jail time, giving veterans the option to address their offenses through resources like counseling, work and furthering education.

It is very sad what soldiers carry inside during war. They return home and are expected to forget everything from their past life. Many bring home feelings of anguish and despondency. Sometimes the things they do don’t reflect themselves, the person they were before they left home.

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