Report Shows Nearly 1,000 Justice-involved Veterans Assisted by Veterans Defense Program,1st in Nation
State-funded Program Releases Report of Accomplishments.40 Vet Groups Support $600,000 Increase in State Funding
ALBANY, NY (01/08/2016)(readMedia)-- (Albany NY) The first report of the state-funded Veterans Defense Program (VDP) was released today, stating that the Program has assisted or trained nearly 1,000 veterans and public defense attorneys representing veterans in New York State's criminal and family court systems since its inception in the Spring of 2014. A program of the New York State Defenders Association, the VDP is the first of its kind in the nation and was launched in response to a crisis situation, where growing numbers of veterans with untreated, service-related mental health illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are lost in the criminal justice system. The report is being mailed to some media outlets, and is available at www.nysda.org
"The VDP provides training, support, and legal assistance to promote informed and zealous representation of veterans and current service members," said Gary Horton, VDP Director. "Studies have found approximately 112,000 veterans in the state have mental health ailments and up to 50% are not receiving treatment. The U.S. Veterans Administration reports untreated veterans are at significant risk of arrest as their trauma symptoms can lead them to criminal conduct. The VDP's assistance provides a second chance for veterans who have lost their way and facilitates a treatment-oriented mitigation approach. For instance, the VDP provided legal assistance in over 100 veteran criminal and family court cases and comprehensive training for 600 lawyers defending veterans," said Horton.
Art Cody, VDP Legal Director (Captain USN Retired) said, "Here is an case study of how the VDP helps veterans. Patrick Kelly* was an Afghanistan-deployed NY Army National Guard medic who served at a detention center for insurgent prisoners and later at a combat theatre medical clinic. He described severe shock and helplessness from those experiences, saying, 'I can't believe how fragile life is.' Once home, this suicidal veteran faced a weapon charge with a five-year sentence when police found a gun in his car trunk. Patrick said its only purpose was 'in case I decided to shoot myself.' The VDP provided a mitigation memorandum describing Patrick's severe military trauma, and his PTSD and depression, convincing the prosecution to change their offer from five years in prison to probation and treatment. The judge concluded, 'Mr. Kelly, heal, integrate, become whole again, as you provided a great service to this country. We are thankful for that and want this wonderful disposition for you.' We succeeded in obtaining justice for Patrick, helping him to once again be a productive member of society. Our assistance saves veterans from incarceration, providing them with treatment leading to family restoration and reintegration," said Cody.
In April 2015, the VDP received $500,000 in the State Budget. The VDP is requesting $1.1 million in the Governor's FY 2016-17 Executive Budget due to overwhelming requests for assistance. The additional $600,000 will enable the VDP to open a New York City office and to expand its overburdened Western NY Batavia office. Forty veteran organizations and many public defense attorneys support the budget request. President Tom DeMeo of the NYS Council of Veterans Organizations said, "Our statewide veteran council, representing 31 veteran groups, such as the Marine Corps League, Fleet Reserves Association, VFW, and Disabled American Veterans, strongly supports the creation of a downstate VDP office and an expanded Western New York office. The VDP is truly defending those who defended America."
NYS Department Commander Mathew Tully of the Military Order of the Purple Heart stated, "Our organization strongly supports the expansion of the VDP and its budget request, as we appreciate their important work to help justice-involved veterans regain their status as productive members of society."
Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf of Brooklyn Defender Services noted, "The establishment of an NYC office would enhance the VDP's ability to assist thousands of criminally charged veterans in the City as well as their counsel, especially in seeking mitigation and alternative dispositions."
Robert Linville, Public Defender of Columbia County said, "The VDP has been a tremendous real time resource to my office. The provision of vigorous defense for veterans of our armed forces is invaluable."
Jerry Ader, Public Defender of Genesee County said, "I strongly support the work of the VDP to help the defense bar more effectively represent veterans, especially in seeking alternative dispositions with treatment and rehabilitation."
Attorney Stephanie Pope of The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice stated, "The VDP provides a tremendous resource and I support the establishment of a NYC VDP office."
Since its launch in the Spring of 2014, the VDP has:
• Been available to over 6,000 public defense attorneys in more than 120 programs in NYS's 62 counties; and
• Assisted or trained nearly 1,000 veterans and public defense attorneys representing veterans or service members, including the following activities.
o Trained 600 attorneys at 12 national, statewide and regional training programs.
o Provided legal assistance in 109 veteran or service member criminal and family court cases.
o Conducted 117 client interviews, which served as the basis for mitigation briefs and counsel assistance.
o Provided over 150 veterans or service members with expert referrals, guidance and information.
o Held educational briefings with 26 organizations.
o Conducted 10 intensive "point person" training programs and 11 public defense office assistance visits throughout the state, including Albany, Cattaraugus, Genesee, Monroe, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Rockland, and Westchester counties, and New York City.
* Name changed to protect his privacy.