Specialty courts have become a popular and viable alternative to incarceration for many who find themselves involved in the criminal justice system after committing low level crimes. These courts are designed to address specific needs and issues that have made individuals turn to crime who otherwise may not have done so. For example, many are familiar with Drug Court, which is designed to assist those with substance abuse problems in a way that ordinary probation and parole cannot.
Another population group that can benefit immensely from a specialty court is veterans. Veterans—particularly combat veterans— return home necessarily affected by their experiences. Many suffer from post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and this can lead to problems with relationships, employment difficulties, homelessness, and substance abuse in efforts to self-medicate. One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance abuse disorder.
Veterans Courts have been introduced in communities throughout New Mexico to address the specific needs of Veterans who find themselves facing criminal charges. The goal of Veterans Courts is to restore veterans to being successful, contributing members of the community. The Court focuses on ensuring that veterans entering the criminal justice system make contact with specific programs to address the root causes of the behavior that resulted in the veteran becoming a defendant in the criminal justice system. These Courts are supervised by judges and in addition to a coordinator, representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, criminal defense attorneys, probation and parole, and mental health professionals participate. Here veterans are given a safe space to discuss and deal with issues that are unique to those who have bravely served our country. These are individuals who were once law abiding and productive members of our community who have lost their way. The vast majority of them want to return to a law- abiding lifestyle but do not know how to do so or lack the tools and resources. Veterans Courts assist these individuals by giving them those tools and resources. Not only is incarceration for these veterans ineffective, we are doing these brave men and women a disservice by not properly addressing the issues that underlie their criminal behavior, especially given the fact that they developed these issues as a result of having volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the freedoms we all hold dear.
Currently efforts are underway to create a Veterans Court in the 13th District. There are approximately 1,700 veterans in Cibola County, 13,000 veterans in Sandoval County, and 6,000 veterans in Valencia County. As a veteran myself, and married to a combat veteran for 33 years, this issue is critically important to me, and as your District Attorney, I am working to help establish a Veterans Court in the 13th Judicial District. We owe our veterans a debt that cannot ever be truly repaid and this is the least we can do to help them return to the best version of themselves possible. This in turn makes our community a better, safer place for everyone.
 According to Military.com