Williamson County Commissioners Court voted Oct. 9 to acknowledge a subcommittee formed by the Williamson County Mental Health Task Force to explore establishing a county veterans court.
The item was brought before the court by Commissioner Lisa Birkman, who serves on the task force. Birkman told the court that a separate veterans court, which would receive governmental funding, could help veterans being tried in criminal cases by offering them more services such as therapy for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The rationale for veterans’ courts is based on the combat-related stress, financial instability and other difficulties adjusting to life that confront many soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan," a Texas Public Policy Foundation policy brief said.
Currently, only 12 of Texas's 254 counties have a separate veterans court, Birkman said, and each is run differently.
"There's no standard of how it's done, they're all different," she said.
According to the TPPF's policy brief, veterans' courts are similar to courts that deal with drug and mental health cases. Not all veterans qualify for the separate court; only misdemeanors and some nonviolent felonies can be prosecuted.
Sentencing in veterans court also differs. Instead of sentencing, a judge holds regular hearings to check on an offender's treatment status.
"Just as with drug and mental health courts, successful completion of the court may result in a dismissal or reduction of the charges, a feature which helps participants obtain or retain employment," the brief said.
Commissioners expressed mixed opinions on the idea, with Judge Dan Gattis expressing doubts on supporting the court.
"It will be an uphill climb to convince me to support it," he said. "To have a special court makes no sense to me."
Commissioner Valerie Covey, who also serves with the task force, was concerned about the impact the separate veterans court could have on other county courts.
"It's not the only answer, if it is an answer. My concern is what is this going to do to other county courts? What would it look like it reality?" she said.
Gattis made a motion that the court acknowledge the subcommittee as it explores other state veterans' courts and to task it to look at other options to help veterans outside a separate court. The motion passed unanimously.
"Everyone who comes into court needs to be treated with dignity and respect, and of course we want to support veterans," Gattis said. "[But] I would like a study to look at other alternatives."