California May Take Closer Look at Treatment Courts for Veterans

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U.S. Army soldiers from the 2-82 Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, walk off the plane as they arrive at their home base of Fort Hood, Texas, in 2011. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Of California's 58 counties, 25 operate courts for veterans, including six in the Bay Area. They allow vets with substance abuse issues or mental health problems to be placed in treatment rather than prison or jail.

The state Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today approved a bill that would require an evaluation of those courts, with an eye toward possibly expanding them.

Businessman Wayne Hughes Jr. is sponsoring the bill and has pledged to pay for half of the study. It is expected to cost about $200,000.

Hughes, who runs a program for veterans at his cattle ranch in San Miguel (San Luis Obispo County), says many vets have trouble adjusting when they get home.

"(They) fall into issues around dysfunctional family relationships, drug and alcohol abuse, and then they begin to touch the criminal justice system," he says. "And once that happens, they sort of get caught up and lose control and it ends up being a spiral.”

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The Judicial Council of California will be responsible for conducting the study and reporting back to the Legislature. The Council's Sharon Reilly says there's a variety of reasons some counties do not have veterans courts.

"Probably one of the biggest drivers is in smaller communities it's difficult to have a court that's directed to a particular population," she says. "One of the things that the study will look at is whether there's opportunities for regional means of making sure that veterans have these services available to them."

Reilly says the courts have proved to be successful. She says the study could provide more information on how best to treat veterans.

The bill moves next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.