03/14/2012 12:34 pm ET

Macomb County Veterans' Court Will Offer Treatment, Mentoring For Offenders

Veterans face special challenges, and their struggles often bring them before the law. But a new program in Macomb County would offer sympathy before penalties and provide alternatives for veterans who find themselves caught up in the justice system.

Macomb County plans to assemble a special court next month to specifically address the needs of veterans accused of crimes. In place of jail or prison time, the Macomb County Veterans' Treatment Court will offer a program of legal assistance, mentoring services and mental health and substance abuse treatment. Serious crimes like child abuse, rape and murder will not be covered by the program.

Attorney Gail Pamukov-Miller, president of the Macomb Bar Association, told the Associated Press that veterans can often become entangled in the legal system due to a variety of special factors tied to their personal histories.

"As a result of their service, often times they have mental issues, depression, PTSD, physical injury, traumatic brain injury," Pamukov-Miller said. "They are disproportionately represented in terms of homelessness, unemployment and contact with the criminal justice system."

A 2010 HUD report estimates there are about 76,000 homeless veterans living in shelters and on the streets nationwide on a given night. More than 900 veterans live in these conditions in the state of Michigan.

Unlike traditional courtrooms, the veterans' court program will take a non-adversarial approach toward participants, with prosecutors and defense attorneys working together to focus on recovery and adherence to law-abiding behavior. The court will be offered the first and third Thursday of the month, beginning April 12.

It will initially include the 16th Circuit Court and District Courts 41A and 41B, and the court system hopes to eventually include all district courts in the county.

There are similar veterans' court programs already in place in Detroit, Novi, Redford and Ingham County.