By Megan Kehoe

The Bulletin

Plans for a veterans court in Deschutes County suffered a serious setback earlier this month after the Deschutes County Circuit Court withdrew its participation in a veterans court training program due to a lack of resources.

“When we made the initial commitment in April 2013 to participate in the training, we stated that at that time we had neither staff nor judicial resources to proceed to actual implementation,” said Chief Judge Alta Brady in a June 5 letter addressed to Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty. “Fourteen months later, the status of the court remains the same.”

Veterans court is a specialty court program the DA’s office has been working to bring to fruition for several years. The purpose of the court is to connect veterans who have broken the law but meet a specific set of criteria to the help and resources they may need to treat underlying conditions. Specialty courts of this nature in other counties have been successful at keeping these individuals from reoffending, said Deputy District Attorney Eric Marvin.

“I don’t want to look at it as a lack of support — I think that would be unfair,” Marvin said. “They (the circuit court) support it in theory for sure. It’s just unfortunate that we don’t get to move forward in a formal sense right now.”

Marvin said a veterans court planning initiative training session was slated to take place at the end of July. Funding for the implementation of the veterans court has continued to be an issue, however, as the circuit court has not had the resources — both in money and docket time. The District Attorney’s office has applied for grants and nonprofit funding for the program.

“We do not … want to create a program that we have no ability to implement, nor default to a model that does not meet the high standards we have achieved with our existing specialty courts,” Brady wrote in the letter. “Further, if judicial resources improve, we must also evaluate and prioritize the need for other specialty courts.”

Brady went on to say there is a high need for the expansion of the drug court and creation of a DUII court.

Interim Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said he believes there is a need for a veterans court in Deschutes County, but it’s important to have the resources in place ahead of its establishment.

“If we do it halfway, I think it will do more to hinder veterans than to help them,” Porter said. “My thoughts are that we shouldn’t start a project or immediately engage in a veterans court unless we have the ability to completely support it.”

Jerry Hollis, executive director of Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, said the news that the veterans court may not get off the ground is unfortunate for both veterans and the community.

“I think there’s going to be a whole bunch of folks who are disappointed,” Hollis said. “The need for this is huge, quite honestly. There are a lot of veterans carrying some stuff around with them — a lot of baggage from multiple tours.”

Hollis also said there may be other ways to help veterans outside of a formal court setting, but that the notion of a veterans specialty court has gained plenty of support from county and city officials — just not a lot of funding.

“It seems like money is the issue, and that somebody has to come up with a pool of money to pay for all of this,” Hollis said. “A lot of guys around this last election ran on the platform of getting a veterans court. It seems like somebody needs to step up now.”

Marvin said he believes there will eventually be a veterans court in Deschutes County, and that the DA’s office will continue to apply for grants for its funding. In the meantime, he said the office will continue to help veterans take advantage of its informal Veteran Intervention Strategy program.

“We can’t emphasize enough our office’s feeling that veterans have earned this,” Marvin said. “They have the right to be connected with the right resources.”

“I think they (Deschutes County Court) will have missed a heck of an opportunity if they don’t do this,” Hollis said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0354, .