DA: Veterans who commit non-violent crimes will get help

New program will help veterans cope with the unseen scars of their service without recourse to alcohol or drugs

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— Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin has started an intervention program for veterans charged with certain types of non-violent criminal charges, and who may be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and drug and alcohol addiction.

Typical offenses that would be considered include DUI when there is no injury, drug possession, retail theft, and other non-violent crimes.

Veterans will be evaluated for eligibility at the preliminary hearing stage of a criminal case, the earliest step in the criminal process in Pennsylvania.

Eligible veterans will be asked to complete a short application and supply a copy of their DD-214 form documenting their service. Once the application is received, along with proof of service and honorable discharge, the case will be referred to the Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator at the Veteran’s Administration in Wilkes Barre, which will determine eligibility for Veterans Administration benefits. If eligible, the veterans may begin accessing VA services to address their problems.

Restrictions apply
The veterans will be required to consent to certain restrictions as a part of the conditions of bail. Some of these conditions may include refraining from possessing or consuming alcoholic beverages, or controlled substances without a valid prescription. They will have to comply with all program requirements, and other conditions specific to a particular case. The veteran will also have to agree to alcohol monitoring and urine testing for controlled substances on a periodic and random basis.

If the veteran complies with all of the conditions of the program, the district attorney’s office will be in a position to recommend to a sentencing judge that the veteran is a candidate to avoid a sentence of incarceration.

Tonkin said he has been communicating with Kim Sapolis, the Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator from the Veteran’s Administration in Wilkes Barre, to set up this initiative. Last month, he invited Sapolis to speak at the Pike County Criminal Justice Advisory Board to introduce criminal justice personnel in the county to the services offered by the VA to veterans involved in the criminal justice system.

“Kim was a great help to assist police, attorneys, probation officers and others to understand how the VA can assist veterans in the criminal justice system struggling with issues related to their military service," Tonkin said.

Hebelieves the program will meet the main goals of the criminal justice system, which are to protect public safety and to help offenders to return to healthy and productive lifestyles without recidivism. By engaging veterans to enter into verifiable treatment programs provided by the VA, along with monitoring procedures to ensure compliance with the program guidelines at the earliest stage of the criminal process, the program will provide confidence to the public that their safety won’t be compromised, Tonkin said.

He also hopes the program will assist struggling veterans with re-establishing healthy lifestyles to lower their risk of re-entering the criminal justice system. The program will introduce veterans to services that can help them cope with the unseen scars of their service without resorting to alcohol or drugs.

“The requirement that a veteran submit their DD-214 will avoid anyone making false claims of valor," Tonkin said. "We are all familiar with the story of serial DUI offender Timothy Flaherty and his false claims of heroism and the false claim of his receipt of a Purple Heart to obtain lenient treatment by the court. This program will ensure that false claims are ferreted out early on in the court process.”

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