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July 10. 2014 8:08PM

Nashua court gives veterans a fighting chance


Judge James H. Leary of the 9th Circuit Court, Nashua District Division, speaks Thursday during the opening ceremony of the state's first veterans court. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA — With veterans accounting for about 10 percent of the inmate population at the New Hampshire State Prison, a new court program is offering vets an alternative to incarceration.

The state’s first criminal court system for veterans was launched Thursday at the 9th Circuit Court in Nashua, designed as a pilot program that may eventually serve as a model for other courts in New Hampshire.

“This is an amazing opportunity in our state to provide alternative treatment to our veterans who come into contact with the law,” said Jo Moncher, chief of the military bureau at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a way to save lives, really.”



Veterans who come into contact with law enforcement and may be suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or substance abuse problems associated with their military service will greatly benefit from the pilot program, according to Moncher.

Veterans who come into contact with law enforcement and may be suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or substance abuse problems associated with their military service will greatly benefit from the pilot program, according to Moncher.

The new Veterans Behavioral Health Track in Nashua provides a way for these veterans to obtain instant services such as mental health treatment, substance abuse help, family counseling or anger management classes as opposed to jail time, she said.

“This is all about access to care. The responsibility to serve our military belongs to all of us,” said Moncher, adding the new court program is a military and civilian partnership that she hopes will eventually be implemented in other corners of the state.

There are now about 160 veteran courts operating throughout the country, but this is the first of its kind in the Granite State. An opening ceremony was held Thursday to recognize the new initiative, which is being supported by the Manchester VA Medical Center, the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center, the New Hampshire Justice Involved Veterans Task Force and more.

Judge James Leary is overseeing the veterans court in Nashua, with cases from Nashua, Hudson and Hollis being referred from area police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment providers, the court system, family members and veteran affairs.

Its mission, according to Leary, is to provide alternative services to veterans with prompt intervention, treatment and recovery to improve safety in the community.

The program will also provide a means to “turn troubles into triumphs,” said Chief Justice Linda Dalianis of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

“Veterans are indeed special,” said an emotional Dalianis, adding they have earned and deserve attention during times of need. The Veterans Behavioral Health Track will tailor to the specific needs of veterans, helping them find suitable treatment options.

There is no funding for the new court program, which is being implemented with existing resources, infrastructure and support services with leadership from the judicial branch. The pilot program is only for misdemeanor cases, and will not include felony charges.

“This is not a free pass out of jail,” said Tony Paradiso, chief operating officer at the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center. “We are actually trying to fix the root of the problem.”

Dan Bricker, peer support specialist with the Manchester VA Medical Center, echoed those comments.

“The veterans are being held accountable,” he said, explaining that even though the court program is optional, if veterans choose to participate, a treatment contract must be signed and there must be compliance.

khoughton@newstote.com


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