By Andreas Butler
For Hometown News
A new program designed to assist veterans with the legal process has begun in Volusia County.
Veterans Court is a specialty court for veterans that may benefit from some social services and treatment options available through the Veterans Justice Outreach division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Court is conducted every month at the Court House Annex on Orange Avenue at City Island in Daytona Beach.
Judge David Beck from the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court presides.
Judge Beck is an Army veteran and saw a need for such an endeavor.
"A lot of veterans are often recycled through the system. It wasn't doing them any good or our community any good. Many vets were at their best when they were serving their country. For some reason, they have run afoul of us. The business is to get them back into society," Judge Beck said.
The second session of Veterans Court was on Dec. 13 with six cases. The first session was a month earlier with three cases.
"It's one of our newest initiatives. These veterans courts are becoming popular nationwide. There was a recognition that veterans coming into the justice system have unique issues," said Ludmilla Lelis, court communications officer.
"This initiative started in 2009. One of the components is to serve as a liaison between veterans and the court system. We are happy to move forward and be a part of this partnership," said Sherri Claudio, Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist.
The court is available for veterans with honorable or general discharges and charged with misdemeanors.
Veterans courts are in 35 states. Orange, Seminole and Brevard counties each have them.
Local support for the court got a boost when Judge Terence Perkins became Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court.
Many cases involving veterans include domestic violence, DUI's and substance abuse, fighting and resisting arrest.
Many veterans are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and mental health issues from combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The cases are misdemeanors pulled from normal misdemeanor criminal case dockets. With anger management as a result from PTSD, we see a lot of domestic violence cases. We are seeing more cases as judges see more of a need for the court," Ms. Lelis said.
The court also helps vets with probation by having them possibly reporting to the VA instead of the court system and possibly offset costs.
"The VA generally helps with services at no cost and help vets with their issues. In this court, if possible, we will try to get no probation, but they still must get the treatment they need," Judge Beck said.
The court reiterates that no special treatment is given and vets must still deal with the legal matters.
"The only benefit is that these services we mandate they can get from the VA. They are not getting a free pass. They get certain services through the VA that may not come at a cost," Judge Beck said.
Veterans court is receiving community support. At the recent hearing, the Vietnam War Veterans of Daytona Beach, the Democratic Veterans Caucus and the Red White and Blue attended.
"It's progressing very well. This court is comparable to some of the other courts in other areas. This one is working very well. It's a very strong partnership," Ms. Claudio said.
State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, is proud of the program and what it provides.
"This is very special. It recognizes that veterans have different problems, which are a result of their service. The veterans are still held responsible for their actions, but this court helps us make sure that we can re-enter them into society with the right services," Sen. Hukill said.
Army Veteran Devin Ward pleaded no contest to a DUI, his license was suspended for six months; he was placed on nine months probation and will get substance abuse treatment from the VA. His driving with suspended license charge was dropped.
Air Force Veteran Vicky Jenrette, 60, entered a no contest plea to driving with a canceled license and unassigned tag. Her petty theft was dropped. She was ordered to pay a total of $273 in fines and court costs.
Wayne Caudle, 36, a Navy veteran, was applauded in court for his progress with a pre-trial program. He must continue it for a year. He was charged with a misdemeanor domestic battery.
Veterans Kenneth Lloyd and John Willits both had their DUI cases continued.