A few years ago, the Texas Legislature passed legislation and provided funding for specialty courts to address and serve our combat veterans. Many veterans were being arrested for crimes varying from DWI and evading to assault family violence and aggravated assault. Many of the acts leading to the arrests were in direct relation to psychological injuries received while serving of our nation, such as PTSD and/or substance abuse. Up to 20% of veterans suffer from these problems due to their service, as well as many other mental health issues such as traumatic brain injury (TBI). In essence, when “Johnny” goes off to war, somebody different comes back home. Unfortunately, to compound the problem, typical probation does little to rehabilitate those who are suffering from combat stress.
According to 2021 population statistics, Nueces County alone has 27,152 veterans living within its boundaries, giving it the largest veteran population south of Bexar County. Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and Naval Air Station Kingsville – located in Nueces and Kleberg Counties respectively – house all branches of the military in some capacity, as well as many of the servicemen and women who remain in Texas after their deployment to enjoy South Texas beaches, BBQ, and freedom. To assist all of these veterans in the area, the Nueces County Veterans Treatment Court (NCVTC) specialty court was developed in Corpus Christi.
NCVTC is overseen by the Honorable Jack Pulcher, who presides over the 105th District Court covering Nueces and Kleberg Counties. Current District Attorney Mark Gonzalez has utilized NCVTC much more effectively than his predecessor, who viewed it simply as a mechanism to gain funding for a few more prosecutors. DA Gonzalez, has welcomed the program with open arms, and the effects have been notable – the specialty court has only a six percent (6%) recidivism rate. Thanks to extra funding from the Texas Veterans Commission, NCVTC now accepts low income veterans who did not previous qualify due to financial hardships, as well as assistance for unexpected needs such as utility, housing, and transportation on a case by case basis.
The program provides a second chance to veterans through a judicially supervised, team based approach that ensures participants are monitored and receive treatment for their underlying issues. veterans are screened, assessed, and approved for participation in the voluntary program. The local defense bar, Coastal Bend Defense Lawyers Association, has been trained to seek out and recognize veterans who may qualify for this. A local jail liaison also checks for inmates who qualify for the program, notifying the specialty court and the defense attorney to act at once if they find someone eligible. (After the defense attorney reviews discovery and performs due diligence defense of course).
The program is aptly named the Veterans Treatment Court because its mission is to treat the symptoms that led to the problem. NCVTC is a hybrid “Drug and Mental Health Court” that uses a typical drug court model while applying the principles of both drug and mental health courts. The specialty court is team‑based, with representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, state and local rehabilitation agencies, and volunteer veteran mentors (Vets helping Vets). There are two local veterans treatment centers in Nueces County that are used, as well as various inpatient and outpatient centers across the state of Texas. NCVTC participants often experience little to no wait getting into these centers.
NCVTC is available to prior or current service members of all the armed forces, including the Coast Guard. Active, reserve and National Guard members with honorable and other than honorable discharge awards are eligible to participate. Only individuals charged with murder, manslaughter, or sex offenses cannot participate. Applicants are assessed by a committee consisting of representatives from the district attorney’s office, the defense bar, veteran’s affairs, the jail, and probation. Counselors and veteran mentors and are approved on a case‑by‑case basis. Complaining witnesses are always contacted and their approval, although not mandatory, weighs heavily. The applicant also interviews in person on a case‑by‑case basis.
There are two possible tracks once the applicant is admitted. Track 1, which is a diversionary track (pre‑trial diversion), leaves the charges pending until all fees are paid and the applicant graduates from the program. Expunction fees are waived and a volunteer attorney litigates the expunction on behalf of the graduate. Track II is the non‑ diversionary track. Any remaining supervision may be terminated early (except DWI 3rd or more, due to the law). If the participant qualifies for a non‑disclosure, assistance is provided. NCVTC, which is typically a 12‑24 month program, is 100% funded by the grant through the Texas Veterans Commission. Probation classes, abstinence monitoring and living assistance are all covered. A veteran who is already on probation can be transferred to the Veterans Treatment Court. Once the case is transferred, the Veterans Court treatment program controls, and all decisions are made by the Treatment Court and its staff. The Veterans Treatment Court has its own judge, with two prosecutors and two criminal defense attorneys assigned to serve the court. The court also has a designated probation officer, outreach coordinator from the Veterans Administration, jail liaison, and volunteer mentor representative who attends court and takes an active part in the program.
The positive aspect of the Veterans Treatment Court is that it focuses on the special needs of our veterans and the unique challenges that they face. It helps our veterans cut through the red tape and take advantage of the services offered by the Veterans Administration. Often, NCVTC leads to a disability diagnosis and support that the veteran would have never otherwise received. It does not follow the “cookie cutter” approach; rather the hands‑on specialty court focuses on the individual needs of the client.