WASHINGTON -- Federal funding could be on the way for veterans treatment courts that have recently sprouted up across the country, including in Pittsburgh.
Relying on a combination of volunteer hours, scarce funding from community fundraisers and help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the courts provide alternatives to punitive sentences for veterans struggling with substance abuse and mental health problems.
A House vote is expected this week on an appropriations bill that includes $4 million for the specialized treatment courts. If approved, it would be the first time federal funding has been available for the program, which began in Buffalo, N.Y., and recently expanded to Pennsylvania and other states.
The courts give special consideration -- and a chance to have records expunged -- to those who risked their lives in the military.
"Local leaders in Pennsylvania and across the country have done the right thing and established veterans treatment courts to ensure our heroes get the care they need," said U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Philadelphia, a former prosecutor who has been pressing his congressional colleagues to fund veterans courts.
The funding proposal has the backing of U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.
"The advent of veterans treatment courts have given us the opportunity to reform both our prison system and make sure that our veterans get the proper help they need. I'm glad that our subcommittee was able to support these courts despite a tough fiscal climate," Mr. Wolf said.
There are 80 veterans treatment courts nationwide.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge John Zottola runs Allegheny County's, where there's been no recidivism among veteran defendants.
To be eligible, participants must have an alcohol or drug dependency problem or must have been diagnosed with a combat-related mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Their crimes must have been misdemeanors and their victims must agree to the alternative court system.
Criminal records are expunged for veterans who comply with rigorous treatment programs often lasting longer than court-ordered programs in traditional court. They are assigned mentors, fellow veterans who help ensure they comply with treatment.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com or 1-703-996-9292. First Published May 8, 2012 12:00 AM