Texas Veterans Court Eligibility Gets Much-Needed Expansion from Texas Legislature

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That past legislative session, the Texas legislature made change to the eligibility requirements for Texas' Veterans Courts, introducing more discretion into the process. These courts are an important part of taking care of the veterans support our freedom by providing a diversion and treatment program.

Texas Veterans Court Programs

Texas has more military veterans than any other state. In the wake of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many veterans have difficulty transitioning from military service to civilian life. Some veterans suffer from PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injuries and others fall into addiction. Plagued by these ailments, some Texas veterans find themselves in the
criminal justice system.

Recognizing a need, Texas has led the nation in addressing veteran criminal issues through special veterans courts. Beginning in 2009, these veterans court were designed to provide treatment and accountability for veterans in an effort to keep them out of the criminal justice system. There are currently 20 veterans courts in the state.

Under current law, which created the veterans courts programs, only veterans who suffer from an injury received while serving in a combat zone or other similar hazardous duty area are eligible to participate in a veterans court. Some veterans that have suffered similar injuries the occurred outside of a combat zone are not eligible despite the fact that the struggle for rehabilitation remains the same.

This has been a point of frustration for Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys who regularly handle cases involving Texas veterans. We were often met with opposition when trying to admit a veteran to the specialty court program.

New Legislation Expands Veterans Court Eligibility

S.B. 1474, which takes effect on 9/1/15, broadens the eligibility for veteran participation in veterans' courts. The bill would provide the courts with more flexibility over who was admitted into the program by removing the requirement that any illness or injury have occurred "in a combat zone or other similar hazardous duty area." There is also another provision that gives courts discretion to admit a veteran if he/she does not fit any of the other categories. Finally, the amendments allow a veteran who is being supervised by a veterans' court program to transfer counties to another program if desired. These are all good changes that will help veterans and make these specialty courts worthwhile.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brandon W. Barnett
Brandon Barnett is a criminal defense lawyer with the Fort Worth, Texas firm of Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC. He is a Reserve Marine Officer and Military Judge. Mr. Barnett is also an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University School of Law teaching Military Justice.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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