Vet court: Unclogging city courts not the only goal

Like other diversionary courts established this year in Philadelphia, the city’s Veterans Court does help alleviate the swamped judicial system that operates out of the Criminal Justice Center.

But another, higher goal of the court is offering a remedial option to veterans accused of non-violent, misdemeanor crimes. With two recent wars, younger veterans are joining older ones as defendants in the city criminal justice system. Many are burdened with a special set of problems, some in need of mental health treatment to address issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It is a court that respects the service of these people — not to favor vets, but to take advantage of the programs offered by the Veterans Administration,” said Richard Lunenfeld, an attorney contracted by the city to represent vets. “Trial might not always be the best solution.”

Military service records are considered, and the court attempts to provide vets in trouble with the tools and resources needed to get their lives back on track. Many defendants receive reduced sentences or have charges dropped.

“It’s not a free pass,” Judge Patrick Dugan said.