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MCLENNAN COUNTY

Veterans in trouble with police could get help with new courtroom

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MCLENNAN COUNTY -

Many veterans get in trouble with the law and a new local program is designed to help them.

It's called veterans court and McLennan County is working to make one. County commissioners gave veterans service officer Steve Hernandez the go ahead on Tuesday for the court.

Hernandez says the court is designed to get those who have had combat service help instead of going through regular probation or jail. It essentially provides a more intensive probation with more frequent check-ins and it makes sure they get help through organizations like the Veteran's Affairs.

"We don't want them to just go through the penal system and be rehabilitated or punished. We do have the capacity to say let's go to the VA and if you haven't gone or let's enhance whatever you have done," Hernandez said.

According to state law, a veteran's court involves the use of a nonadversial approach involving prosecutors and defense attorneys. Misdemeanor judge Brad Cates says if he presides over it he wouldn't treat veterans differently.

"The purpose I see is not to treat them different but to address their issues related to their service," Cates said.

"I think in establishing all these we're looking at the public safety," Hernandez said.

The program gets veterans mental help or in touch with the veteran's affairs. However, Hernandez says it's up to the veteran to make it work.

"I think it's still going to be a matter of that individual if they want to participate or not," Hernandez said.

Bell county has talked about having a veterans court in the past but have a veterans docket instead. Travis County and Bexar County both have veterans courts.

Hernandez and Cates both say they still have to do a lot of research before they can get the veterans court started. That means going to courts in other counties. Hernandez also says a main concern is how much the court will cost. He says he's applied for a federal grant from the Department of Defense to help offset the cost to taxpayers.

Hernandez also says he has to figure out who will qualify to be in veterans court and what charges they will allow.

To read how Texas law defines a veterans court, which was established in 2009, click here.

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