Manual guides legal professionals looking to serve veterans

WMU-Cooley Law School has partnered with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency and the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) to introduce a new resource for Michigan trial court judges and staff interested in developing Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs). “Veterans Treatment Courts in Michigan: A Manual for Judges” is a compilation of best practices being used to address the special circumstances of veterans confronted with non-violent criminal charges and is designed to serve as a blueprint for the further development of problem-solving courts for veterans.

“Veterans Treatment Courts help Michigan’s justice-involved veterans get back to leading productive, law-abiding lifestyles more quickly,” said Jeff Barnes, director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.  “Michigan is a national leader in the number of Veterans Treatment Courts, and MVAA has partnered with many existing VTCs to provide them with additional resources, training and advocacy. This manual will be an excellent resource to help foster the growth of even more courts.” 

“Just as veterans serve our country, we must serve them, especially after they return home,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Viviano. “Through VTCs, we can address challenges that traditional courts are ill equipped to solve. This treatment and support can help veterans avoid incarceration and save taxpayers substantial resources.  Saving lives and saving money — that’s a win-win outcome this manual helps to support.”

Similar to drug and mental health problem-solving courts, VTCs focus on recovery issues and adherence to law-abiding behavior by offering veterans access to services including mentoring, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. 

The Veterans Treatment Court manual will serve as a tool for district and circuit court judges who do not operate a VTC but wish to develop one in their jurisdiction. It includes suggested best practices and advice from Michigan judges who currently operate a VTC and was compiled through interviews conducted by WMU-Cooley students and edited by MVAA and Brigadier General and WMU-Cooley Professor Michael C. H. McDaniel.

“WMU-Cooley recognizes the importance of the VTCs and we are proud to support the further development of these courts,” McDaniel said. “As a retired member of the Michigan National Guard, I personally understand how service can sometimes have an adverse effect on an individual, so I am honored to have been able to contribute to the creation of this guide and hopefully the formation of more alternative courts.”

 In 2013, the Michigan Legislature created a broad set of standards that allowed local courts to establish VTCs as alternatives for veterans accused of certain crimes. Currently, Michigan leads the nation in the number of existing VTCs with 22 across the state.

 SCAO provides advice and support to 243 trial courts statewide regarding the adoption of best practices to improve service to the public.  In particular, SCAO analysts collect data regarding court performance (such as recidivism rates) and use the data to provide advice on improving outcomes.

The WMU-Cooley students who assisted McDaniel on the development of the Veterans Treatment Court manual include Vincent Anyaso, Jacqueline Cardella, Aaron Cook, Brenda Polk, James Springer and Heather Spielmaker.

More information about the Veterans Treatment Court manual and VTCs is available at courts.mi.gov/vetcourts. The “Veterans Treatment Courts in Michigan: A Manual for Judges” can be accessed at www.courts.mi.gov/vtcmanual.
 

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