Veterans Courts: Philadelphia Inquirer
Karen Heller: Veterans Court winning cases
By Karen Heller
Today is Veterans Day at the Criminal Justice Center. So is every Wednesday, when it's time for Veterans Court, the Hon. and U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Patrick F. Dugan presiding.
Established in March by state Supreme Court Justices Ronald D. Castille and Seamus P. McCaffery, both decorated veterans, the court is one of three in the state, and almost 20 nationwide, exclusively handling veterans' misdemeanor cases.
It's already a success, a "problem-solving" court, like drug court and mental health court, designed to expedite assistance and avoid costly legal delays and jail time. Defendants range from age 20 (Iraq) to 80 (Korea), but the cases are remarkably sad and similar - virtually all male, charged with driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, possession, spousal abuse.
"A vast majority of the defendants are involved with drugs and alcohol," Dugan says. They need treatment and attention.
"I finished the ninth grade," says an Army veteran, picked up for possession. He looks as if his best years are decades behind him.
"I believe you attended the University of Vietnam," says Dugan, who speaks respectfully to all veterans. "You need to clean up. You've been there. You've seen some crazy stuff in your life. This is illegal. You've been through too much to go through that. So step up."