A joint effort between the commonwealth and the U-S Department of Veterans Affairs to provide vets with access to a court system and health services when they get into legal trouble is set to expanding statewide.
Like the mental health and drug courts, the Pennsylvania Veterans Justice Program will find veterans in trouble with the law and provide them with social services. Tony Coppola is a Vietnam War vet from Pittsburgh who has benefited from the program in Allegheny County. When he was arrested for drunk driving, he was put on probation and treated for drinking problem. He says without the program he may not be alive now. “They teach you things and being with all veterans, it helped me out quite a bit,” says Coppola.
State Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery was instrumental in bringing the alternative to jail time to Pennsylvania. He says it's also a cost saving measure for local governments because it takes veterans off their court dockets. “They take these people, they're diverted out of the court, given over to the VA. Whatever their needs may be, the Veterans Administration comes in with federal dollars and takes care of that individual to allow him to get back into society,” says McCaffery.
More than 650 vets have gone through the program since its inception in 2009. It's currently up and running in Allegheny, Lackawanna and Philadelphia counties. The Pennsylvania Justice Program is a joint effort between the state and the federal government.
Listen to a story produced by WDUQ as the Veterans Court was launching in Allegheny County.