New Courts Give Troubled Veterans a Second Chance

The system can better take account of a veteran's physical and emotional condition.

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Still, not everyone supports the courts. Critics, including some veterans, worry about what they see as the courts' perpetuation of stereotypes. Others criticize the idea of creating a separate class of offenders solely on the basis of military service. "It's been popular to create this illusion of these people coming home from the war who are now somehow deficient," says Kevin Creed, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now an attorney in Bristol, Conn. "They're not wacky wing nuts that have to come home to be treated differently than the average American. If you have veterans courts, what does that say about veterans?"

At a time when municipalities are slashing budgets, some people are wary of the cost. Since most judges carve out the sessions on their own time and treatments are usually done through the VA or other groups, the extra expense, says Pirowski, stems from hiring a court coordinator and case managers. Although he jokes that he's been "afraid" to calculate the cost of the extra time that he and other administrators spend, he estimates that the total cost of each veteran going through the court is $2,700. Jail, he says, costs between $30,000 and $32,000 per year.

To veterans who have been through the courts, though, the cost savings can't begin to quantify the benefits. Now clean, Zaborowski plans to attend college next spring. He will be the first in his family to go to college. He'll use funding he can get as a veteran, an option he didn't know he had until he found out through the court. Thoughts of his three children keep him on track, but the fact that he has a plan, he says, is because of the veterans court.

Zaborowski tried to show what that meant at a hearing. He used to attend court in sneakers, with uncombed hair. This month, he got a haircut, bought a couple of ties, and went on the Web to figure out how to tie them. "I spent an hour, hour and a half trying to learn to tie a tie. All just for the court, to show them I appreciate everything. I really don't want to let them down."

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