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Veterans Court in Riverside County gets Federal Grant

The Veterans Court in Riverside County this past week received a three year $350,000 federal grant from the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance. According to a press release from the Court, funding will be used to enhance the program's drug and alcohol testing, client transportation, interim housing, and evaluation and additional probation support, among other things. Kudos to Riverside County and Superior Court Judge Mark Johnson, an Army reservist and former defense attorney who oversees the Riverside County Veterans Court, and his team.

California currently has 9 Veterans Courts. The courts were created in response to an increasing number of veterans appearing before courts to face criminal charges stemming from mental illness or substance abuse. In 2006 the California State Legislature amended Penal Code section 1170.9 to allow the criminal courts to permit combat veterans suffering from service-originating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, or psychological problems to appear before these Veterans Courts.

It is a post-plea and not a diversion program. Certain eligibility requirements must be met. There are exclusions for violent crimes. Defendants are placed on probation for 18 months and are required to complete VA programs deemed appropriate for each individual. Several agencies are involved in the program including a judge, probation department, mental health, the Veterans Administration, a district attorney, and a public defender.

California has the largest vet population (2.3 million) in the nation. They comprise more than 6 percent of the state's population. A large percentage of veterans in the criminal justice system suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. Here's hoping that the Veterans Court in Riverside County and elsewhere in the state continue to help reduce these numbers.

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