Glendale studying need for a veterans court

By Cecilia Chan
Independent Newsmedia

Glendale is looking at the possibility of setting up a court that handles cases involving veterans.

The city already has a mental health court, which has helped reduce cost and repeat offenders among those with a mental disability.

“Our judge did some survey and research and determined there is a need,” said Mayor Jerry Weiers, a proponent of veteran issues. “Everyone has agreed it is necessary for us to figure out how to get a veterans court here in Glendale. I will be working on the next few months on finding a funding source. ”

Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers

The mayor said funding would likely come in fiscal year 2018-19.

“Whatever we do, we want to do it correctly,” he said. “We don’t want to do it wrong.”

The only Valley communities with veteran courts so far are Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe. Maricopa County also has one.

A veterans treatment court model removes veterans from the regular criminal justice process and helps address symptoms that are unique to veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse. In a veterans treatment court, the presiding judge works alongside the veteran and a specialist to establish a structured rehabilitation program that is tailored to the specific needs of that veteran.

Glendale is home to more than 15,000 veterans, according to Maricopa Community College District’s Veteran Success Project. Luke Air Force Base also is in the city’s backyard.

Assistant City Manager Tom Duensing said staff is working on the issue.

“There have been several concepts floated around, one of them is to have a veterans court in Glendale only but another concept is a regional concept,” joining with other West Valley communities to form the court, he said.

He said a more in-depth feasibility and cost study still needs to be done.

Determining the cost is a huge undertaking, he said.

“One of the things is we are just coming off the heels of a financial crisis,” he said. “And so, over the past 3.5 years, we actually had to exercise a lot of restraint. We have to put money aside in our savings, fund balance so any new programs, which this is would have to be vetted very seriously.’ The city is on track to building a $50 million fund balance by fiscal year 201920.

Mr. Duensing said he can not speak as to the need for this program in Glendale.

“I know it’s really important to the mayor and you know that military and veteran issues are hugely important to him and I know in talking with the court, they talked with Tempe and Tempe has a need for it. Beyond that I can’t point to any data on we do have a need.

“The bottom line is it is very, very preliminary,” Mr. Duensing said. “Something like this, obviously you can’t do it overnight.”

He said there is no future agenda item on the issue yet for council discussion. But when and if council gives the OK for a veterans court, he guessed it could be up and running quickly in six months to a year.

In April U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, introduced the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act, which would require Department of Veterans Affairs to hire additional Veterans Justice Outreach specialists, who would make sure veterans are connected to effective and tailored treatment. The bill was read twice and sent to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

According to Sen. Flake, more than half a million veterans reside in Arizona.

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