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12 23Thu04242014

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Back Local News Special veteran court legislation supported

Special veteran court legislation supported

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BILL 161, or the Justice for Veterans Act of 2013, received support from the Judiciary of Guam and other members of the community during yesterday’s public hearing for the bill.

The bill helps out veterans – including active, reserve, and National Guard members – who may suffer the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression, and substance abuse problems, among others.

Some veterans come into contact with the criminal justice system and are charged with felonies or misdemeanors. Thus, the measure stressed, there is a critical need for the system to not only provide treatment for these veterans but also provide for accountability.

Bill 161, introduced by Sen. Frank Aguon and co-sponsored by Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz and Sen. Aline Yamashita, proposes the creation of a specialized veterans court program with the necessary flexibility to meet the specialized problems faced by veterans with these problems.

Presiding Judge Alberto Lamorena III, who was tasked at the Judiciary with examining the feasibility of developing a Veterans Treatment Court for the island, testified that he supports the intent of the measure.

In his written testimony, Lamorena said the bill "could provide the Judiciary with the resources necessary to operate a specialty court for justice-involved veterans who may be suffering from mental illness and/or co-occurring mental health and substance abuse as a direct result of having served the country."

Stakeholders, Lamorena stressed, must work together in a non-adversarial role to address the underlying issues of the crime that brought veterans before the criminal justice system, such as substance abuse and mental illness, while holding them accountable for their crimes.

Lamorena said he has already appointed a veterans court committee consisting of various stakeholders to establish a framework on the operation of the veterans' court. The aim, he said, is to seek federal funding to staff the new court.

Meanwhile, Sarah Thomas-Nededog, WestCare Pacific Islands vice president, in her written testimony, commended Aguon and the members of the committee for introducing the measure, which she said would formalize the community's support for the local veterans' treatment court.

"This signals our progressive understanding of the complex issues that our veterans are facing daily as they battle serious mental health and substance abuse problems to cope with their experienced trauma," she said.

Nededog estimated that the number of veterans on Guam could range from 8,000 to 16,000, based on the patterns of the veteran population in the mainland, which is about 11 percent of the total population.

"Certainly, these numbers suffice to say that our community needs to pay attention to our veterans' special needs. As a community, we must ensure that they have access to services and treatment from those who know best the complexities of trauma, mental health, and substance abuse," she said.

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