It was a proud day for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown as he bore witness to the fruits of his labor and the first group of graduates who had successfully completed the Veterans Court program he created — and there will be more throughout the year.
Brown set up the Veterans Court in 2010 with the goal of helping servicemen and women who have committed nonviolent crimes and need alcohol, substance abuse or mental health services get treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
“Our returning veterans deserve not only our gratitude and our praise, but our support, as well,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “Many of them have witnessed firsthand the horror and devastation that war brings — and some have, unfortunately, brought back with them deep emotional and psychological scars as a result of their experiences.”
Steve Epps, a Vietnam veteran, former police officer and community service officer at the Proctor-Hopson VFW Post in Jamaica, praised the program for getting servicemen and women the help they need rather than leaving them at the mercy of the prison system.
“Without a doubt, I think it’s a good thing,” Epps said “Some vets come back confused and they have nowhere to turn — no family — they’re disturbed and they do things that they shouldn’t do.
“These are people who served our country and come back emotionally, mentally and physically displaced, and those are issues that need to be addressed,” he continued.
On March 12, the first five veterans who successfully completed the year-long program’s requirements graduated and will have a second chance to become productive members of society and not repeat offenders. They had been convicted of crimes such assault, DWI and drug possession, according to Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for the DA’s office.
The Veterans Court provides outreach, specialized services and treatment as well as peer support; and facilitates the exchange of information between legal, clinical and community resources.
Since it was established, nearly 40 otherwise jail-bound veterans have been diverted through the Veterans Court and are expected to complete the program this year, a spokesman for the DA’s office, said.