Nate Moser stood in a Skokie courtroom and thanked those who helped him stay out of prison.
“My defense — thank you,” the Navy vet said, adding, to laughter, “and the prosecution—thank you.”
“You don’t hear that very often,” interjected Michael J. Hood, a District 2 associate judge.
Then again, it is not often that the legal system goes to such effort to help those caught up in it. This was not a usual session in a typical courtroom, but graduation day in Veterans Court, one of Illinois’ 123 problem-solving courts. The idea is, rather than use justice as an indifferent conveyor of punishment, to turn it into an engine of compassion, resources, and attention, trying to address the problems that land military veterans in trouble.
“This is the best form of justice, the most successful program we have,” said specialty court coordinator Kelly Gallivan-Ilarraza. “We have the team approach. The case manager, probation officer, public defender, state’s attorney, problem-solving court coordinator, sit around the table and talk about what the person needs. Whatever they need, we try to get them: housing, education, employment. If they had mental illness, if they need medication, if they need treatment, whatever it is, to get them the tools so they don’t come back.”
While Veterans Day, which falls on Thursday this year, is a time to praise veterans and their heroism and sacrifice, the difficult realities facing many veterans often are overlooked. Of all military personnel who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, 9% have been arrested since their return, and veterans are at greater risk for substance abuse, suicide and problems related to PTSD and head trauma. Plus a trauma only now being recognized.
“We’re seeing a lot more cases of military sexual trauma,” said Sherisa R. Benson, veteran’s justice outreach specialist at Captain James A. Lovell Health Care Center, the VA hospital in North Chicago. “It’s a fairly recent thing. People consider it a disorder now. It’s something that we screen for.”
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