Governor Bill Haslam was joined on Wednesday for a bill signing by Tennessee Senator Mark Green and two of three judges in Tennessee who preside in existing Veterans Courts of Davidson and Montgomery Counties - Judge Melissa Blackburn and Ken Goble. Tennessee now has the nation’s only funding mechanism to create and sustain Veterans Courts that uniquely serve veterans with tailored programming as part of their sentencing, officials said.
Hamilton County is also working on setting up a Veterans Court.
General Sessions Court Judges Gary Starnes and Lila Statom have been meeting with a group led by Ret. Air Force Col. Chris Dooley and Ray Adkins.
It is hoped the local court may be in operation by the end of the year.
The court would provide treatment options for veterans and, in misdemeanor cases, would seek to offer veterans a second chance to keep charges off their records.
The Criminal Justice Veterans Compensation Act of 2015 (CJVA) was sponsored by Senator Green of Clarksville and Rep. Dawn White of Murfreesboro.
“This is the bill I’m most proud of this year,” noted Senator Green, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran. “Leading our nation with the first-ever law that creates a funding mechanism to offer options for our service men and women returning with invisible scars that, if untreated, may lead to crime, homelessness, or suicide.”
Veterans Courts support services are part of a veteran’s sentencing such as group therapy, job coaching, mentoring by fellow veterans, and specialized treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the substance abuse frequently seen with those who to self-medicate.
On the same afternoon of the bill signing, recent graduates of Davidson County’s Veterans Court programs where recognized demonstrating the benefits of the law as Judge Melissa Blackburn hosted her Montgomery County colleague, Judge Goble and Senator Green.
Gathering in the Justice A.A. Birch Building, Judge Blackburn presented the three Veterans Court graduates certificates of completion of the weeks-long program that addressed theunderlying problem. In this case, all were dealing with substance abuse issues.
“Resorting to drugs and alcohol to numb the painful memories or difficulties of returning to a civilian routine is too often the cause that puts these folks on the other side of the law,”Senator Green commented in his graduation remarks. “The work of these Veterans Courtsleaders offer our veterans a second chance.”