New law helps vets navigate legal system

More veterans in Illinois soon will be able to get the help they need in the courtroom as a new state law may help expand access to the state’s veterans courts.

Twelve counties in Illinois have veterans courts, which are programs designed specifically for veterans and the problems they encounter in the criminal justice system.

But to qualify, vets once had to wait on the big bureaucracies at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs or at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Signed into law this month, the new legislation allows local veterans assistance commissions (VACs) to screen local veterans themselves. State Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, helped push the law.

“Not only are local veterans assistance commissions more responsive and cut down the amount of time it takes to handle the actual court case, the local office is also the first entrance into any governmental program for returning veterans,” Althoff said.

Althoff said that shrinking government bureaucracy by keeping it as close to home as possible is a huge benefit to men and women trying to readjust to life at home.

“You have to remember, a lot of veterans are coming home after being gone for a very long time,” Althoff said. “It’s the local agencies where they have the easiest entrance, where they feel more comfortable.”

Lake County Veterans Assistance Commission Superintendent Mike Peck said giving local offices more freedom to act is one of the best ways the state can help veterans. “I deal with veterans every day who are having trouble with the huge bureaucracy at the VA.”

Peck said his office often gets answers or makes appointments the VA can’t. “County government is where the rubber meets the road.”

In addition to pre-court qualifications, the new law authorizes the local VACs to handle post-sentencing counseling, drug screening and peer mentoring to veterans in need.

–Illinois News Network

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