Veterans Court Subcommittee updates commissioners

Williamson County Commissioners were updated on the research conducted by the Veterans Court Subcommittee at their May 7 meeting. The subcommittee, formed in 2012 under the Williamson County Mental Health Task Force, is researching creating a county veterans court.

Approved by the Texas Legislature in 2009, veterans court programs must, among other requirements, provide defendants with access to a continuum of alcohol, controlled substance, mental health and other related treatments and rehabilitative services, and maintain ongoing judicial interaction with program participants.

"They must have a mental health diagnosis that relates to their [military] service," Commissioner Lisa Birkman said. "And they have to be diagnosed before they enter the court."

Birkman and Commissioner Valerie Covey serve as members of the Mental Health Task Force.

Chairwoman of the task force Kathy Pierce shared a presentation from the Travis County Veterans Court with the commissioners, explaining the purpose and goals of a separate court.

Issues such as anxiety, depression, anger and isolation are common problems seen with combat veterans who commit crimes, according to the presentation. Alcohol and drug abuse are common in veteran-related cases in Williamson County, Covey said.

Substance abuse is a common way some veterans self-medicate, Pierce said.

"This court helps them work on their problems and get connected to services quicker," she said.

Current staff members from the county's pre-trial services and probation staff could be utilized in the creation of a Williamson County veterans court. The proposed court would set a docket that would start after 5 p.m. so not to interfere with other court cases.

"We're just gathering information for the court," Covey said. "We're not promoting or saying we don't need one, we're just gathering information."

County Judge Dan Gattis said the subcommittee was welcome to update the court on any new findings when it returns from researching Guadalupe County's veterans court in Seguin in June.


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