This Chicago Criminal attorney posted here about the operation of Veterans Courts in Chicago. Tomorrow is Veterans Day.
We are a nation that just went through a mid-term election and barely talked about the two, count 'em, two wars we are currently fighting. We can hardly force ourselves to pause from fretting about the economy to pay attention to soldiers fighting and dying on our behalf every day, never mind those who fought in previous wars, particularly vets who get in trouble like Hall. That's what this court does; it gives vets not a legal break, but support they are entitled to.
The real work of Veterans Court does not take place when Circuit Court Judge John P. Kirby enters his courtroom and all rise; rather, the heavy lifting of helping these vets get back on track goes on an hour beforehand, at a pre-court meeting, in a room so crowded with staff -- I count 19 people -- there isn't room for them to sit around the table. Representatives from the states attorney, public defender and sheriff's offices are here, along with those from the U.S., Illinois and Chicago offices of veterans affairs, plus probation officers, drug counselors, homeless coordinators, legal clinics.
"Everybody was already up and running," says Kirby. "Every program here was in existence. We just put everybody in the same room and said, 'How can we work with veterans the best that we know how?' "
One by one, Kirby reads the names of the vets on today's court docket, and the caseworkers involved report regarding drug tests and program participation.
"Looks like he's been attending all his meetings . . ."
"He came back positive for cocaine . . ."
"We're just waiting for the results so we can fax them over."
Kirby occasionally asks pointed questions: "Have we reached a member of his family? There was one there, early on . . ."
To qualify for Veterans Court, an accused vet has to be charged with a crime the law doesn't require jail time for if convicted.
"We don't take violent crimes or sex crimes," says Kirby. "We are looking for people who commit probational offenses."
Afterward, the vets whose progress -- or lack of progress -- has been reviewed appear in court. Some are in custody, brought in wearing sand-colored DOC scrubs. Some are in street clothes -- untucked button-down shirts mostly. Some are appearing for the first time.
"I've been informed you are a veteran," Kirby tells a young woman.
"I was in Iraq," she says.
There’s no question that if you are a veteran, then every day is Veteran’s Day. Now what can we all do to make sure a veteran doesn’t ever need to be in Veterans Court?