Travis County awaits funding for veterans' court

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by MARTIN BARTLETT / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on March 30, 2010 at 5:44 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 30 at 6:52 PM

AUSTIN -- Travis County could soon join the list of Texas counties setting up special court systems for their war veterans.

Fifty-five years after coming home from Korea, veteran Elijah Scott sometimes feels like he's still fighting.

"I’ve been there and I’ve come out of it a little bit, but it never leaves you. It never leaves you."

Army doctors diagnosed Scott with post traumatic stress disorder; now he's getting treatment at the VA clinic in Austin.

"It's more than just stress, it's like a scary idea that you just can't control,” Scott said.

"Those same skills that you learn to survive in a combat zone will get you arrested when you come back home,” said Judge Marc Carter.

In addition to his duties presiding over a state district court in Houston, Carter presides over one of the first veterans' courts in Texas.

By state law, prosecutors decide which cases are eligible for veterans’ courts.  Typically they're non-violent offenses.

Rather than locking up a veteran, the courts seek to match them up with programs from the Veterans’ Administration and other social services.

Cases in veterans’ court, the case will be heard by a judge and not a jury.

Leaders estimate that one out of every three homeless people in the country has some sort of military service in their background. Those numbers are helping shape the program that's being considered here in Travis County.

In addition to helping homeless vets find housing, officials hope the Travis County program will include volunteer veteran mentors.

"This is not a pass, a way out. This is about making amends for the crimes they commit and about getting to the root cause,“ said State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

Van de Putte helped craft the legislation which allows counties to set up the special courts.  A few million dollars are available from the state to help counties pay for the new programs.

"Yes, it's probably going to take a little more. But they've given a little extra for us -- the least we can do is given them a chance at getting their life back to normal,” Van de Putte said.

Counties wishing to set up a veteran’s court will likely have to hire at least one additional court coordinator.

Court coordinators in Travis County make about $45,000 a year.

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