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October President's message


 
Hon. Linda S. Jamieson

 

On Monday, November 11, 2019 we will have the privilege of observing Veterans Day.

Veterans Day is meant to be a day on which we thank all who have served our country in the military, especially those who have served in dangerous, far away combat zones, but it is also a day on which it is hard to forget those who gave all in that service, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Approximately 1,200,000 American soldiers have died in our nation’s wars, with an incredible number of 498,000 of those dying on both sides during the Civil War and 698,000 in all the other conflicts. The recent wars in the Middle East and other hot spots around the globe have resulted in fewer combat related fatalities for many reasons, including but not limited to faster response times for getting casualties to high level medical facilities and the use of smaller forces and computer-controlled weaponry. Those changes in combat conditions have contributed to deaths in combat far fewer than the 90,000 men and women of our military who perished during the Vietnam War.

Nonetheless, no matter what the conflict or the number of fatalities, any fatality is devastating for the loved ones of that service man or woman who gave their all in the defense of our country.

In addition to those who sacrificed their lives on far away shores, some of those who return from the field of combat sometimes fall into problematic patterns of behavior because of the difficult transition from the field of combat to civilian society, a transition that for too many veterans is one that presents difficulty in navigation.

So that we as a profession will do more than just to say “thank you for your service,” the Ninth Judicial District, under the guidance and leadership of Administrative Judge Kathie E. Davidson with the assistance of Supreme Court Justice David Everett, is attempting to create a county wide Veteran’s Court to expand upon the district’s drug courts for veterans already operating in White Plains City Court, Mount Vernon City Court, New Rochelle City Court and Yonkers City Court.

Judge Davidson and Judge Everett have met with Ronald C. Tocci, Director of the Westchester County Veteran’s Service Agency, Rocco Pozzi, the Director of the Westchester County Probation Department, Paul Gill of Disabled American Veterans, Bronx County, who oversees the Veteran’s Court in the Bronx County Court, and J.D. Kilby, representing Joseph Geraci of ProVetus, an organization which trains and certifies mentors to assist veterans in the difficult transition from the combat zone to the home front as well as with several of our members to see if a larger Veteran’s Court initiative can be put into operation.

At an initial meeting of that group, it was agreed that the goal of establishing and furthering a Westchester County Veteran’s Court initiative is to rehabilitate and restore certain eligible veterans, who have found themselves in the criminal justice system, and to help those veterans become active and contributing members of our community.

What would the Veteran’s Court look like? It would be a hybrid of a traditional drug and mental health court. It would require community collaboration and comprehensive treatments through the Veteran’s Administration. The utilization of peer mentorship would be essential.

Veteran’s Courts were first developed in our Country in 2004 in Anchorage, Alaska. The surge of the establishment of Veteran’s Courts across the United States continued in the establishment of the Erie County Veteran’s Court under the guidance of Judge Robert Russell in 2008. Presently, there are over 300 specialized treatment programs or dockets for veterans across the United States.

Judge Russell said upon the founding of the Veteran’s Court in Buffalo in 2008 that:

“These are men and women who have made tremendous sacrifices by serving in the military… while some in the military do not make it home, some that do are suffering from the invisible wounds of war: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and self-medicating through drugs and alcohol.”

There are 1.5 million veterans in our country who are at or below the poverty line. There are over 200,000 veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Those diagnoses left untreated create lifelong problems for Veterans. There are times that a veteran will encounter instances of negative behavior without knowing why. Very often, it takes a life altering event for a veteran and/or those close to that veteran to recognize that he or she needs help. Some responsive actions by veterans tragically include suicide or suicide attempts. A staggering and heart wrenching statistic tells us 22 veterans a day commit suicide in our country. Attempted suicide, violent crimes, unemployment, homelessness, weapons possession, road rage, vehicle and traffic violations, DWIs, DUIs, also present themselves.

The consequences of that behavior can result in the entry of a veteran into the criminal justice system and possibly the care and custody of the Department of Corrections. This situation then creates a systemic vicious cycle that can become a way of life, with a life sentence so to speak meted out for those veterans who are forever scarred by the result of that unfavorable outcome within the criminal justice system.

The Veteran’s Court is not designed to be lenient or give a veteran a free pass, but to treat and rehabilitate an eligible veteran allowing him/her to find a favorable re-entry into civilian society.

Indeed, I applaud Judge Davidson, Judge Everett and their team on their efforts in developing a Veteran’s Court, building upon a Report and Recommendation developed by the Special Committee on Veterans of the New York State Bar Association and a most positive experience and outcome for the Bronx County Veteran’s Courts. I look forward to its inauguration.

As an Association, we should not just thank veterans for their service, but extend to those veterans our hand so that if there is an unfortunate entry into the criminal justice system for an eligible veteran, a path can be established to assist that veteran, who is used to discipline and doing things “by the numbers,” in returning to a happy, successful and productive life as a civilian.

You can help by being mindful in your practices of the needs of any client, or spouse or family member of a client who might be a veteran. We know that many veterans live in our county and are either not aware that they are entitled to benefits that they earned as a result of their service, or, just as likely, have attempted to obtain benefits from the VA and have become frustrated and have given up trying. Outreach is critical, and you could be a part of that effort.

If, as you screen clients, you find a veteran or family member who is not receiving benefits he, she or they may be entitled to, please direct them to the Westchester County Veterans Service Agency at (914) 995-2145 or 2146; veteran@westchestergov.com.

Each year in our magazine, during the month of November, we proudly spotlight our members who are veterans. Please take the time to reach out and thank them for their service. Additionally, as a tribute to our veterans, our members volunteer annually at the Montrose VA Hospital for a night of Bingo and prizes for the veteran residents. If you would like to join us, donate prizes or sponsor the event, please contact our Executive Director (ExecutiveDirector@wcbany.org).

Remember if you need to reach me with any suggestions, concerns or comments, I am always available at President@wcbany.org or by appointment, just call 914.761.3707.

Please don’t forget to thank a veteran for their past service and our active members of the military for their current service to our great nation. We are so proud of them.

 

 

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