VAPAHCS partnered with the Santa Clara County court system to create a "Veterans Court," an innovative alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. Initiated and presided over by Superior Court Judge Stephen Manley, the court is designed to assist Veterans in obtaining services that address underlying problems, which have brought them into the criminal justice system.
Substance abuse and mental health issues often lead to the arrest and incarceration of Veterans, and Judge Manley discovered that Veterans in his courtroom were often unaware of the services available to them through VA. By bringing VA staff into the courtroom, defendants are able to quickly access VA resources, and Judge Manley is able to monitor the progress of the Veteran over time as they receive VA services.
"Our Veterans Court is a lot like an ER – we have immediate action, Veterans don’t have to wait," said Judge Manley. "We connect them to the VA or community resources, instead of jail or prison. Everyone wins."
Modeled after the nation's original Veterans Court in Buffalo, NY, Judge Manley's court was the third such court in the country to use this unique collaboration between the VA and the court system. When Judge Manley's court opened its doors in November 2008, 22 veterans were on the Veterans Court docket. In the short time since then, the court has seen a rapid increase in the number of Veterans who are referred to Veterans Court; more than 60 Veterans have participated in the program.
Judge Manley recently began inviting Veterans to serve as mentors to the defendants in his court. Speaking to a group of Veterans about the importance of the mentorship component of his program, Judge Manley explained, "If you have someone who has been through what they are going through, it's much more powerful and meaningful. You can motivate them to turn their lives around; you can guide them through the VA system."