Blair County intends to join regional veterans treatment court “in the future” which will serve eight counties in the region, according to President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle.
The judge released a statement commenting on efforts by Huntingdon County Judge George Zanic and Clinton County Judge Michael Salisbury to establish a tribunal that will provide mentorship and treatment to veterans facing criminal charges.
The effort is aimed at helping veterans who might have gotten into trouble for reasons related to their service.
Zanic said attempts to create a regional court involving multiple counties were being encouraged by Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices Debra Todd and Kevin M. Dougherty.
It is also supported by the General Assembly, which will provide funds to support the Court.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Courts Administration Office reported that attempts to establish a regional court in this area were underway.
The court will include the counties of Huntingdon, Blair, Clearfield, Juniata, Perry, Center, Mifflin and Clinton.
“All too often, individuals find themselves in our courtrooms feeling defeated and as if all hope is lost.” Zanic said.
“By creating a regional treatment court, we would offer our veterans a chance to meet their challenges with the support of their peers and the entire treatment court system,” he said.
In a telephone interview, Zanic said he would like to see the tribunal functioning by next July.
He said the judicial administrative unit – which includes judges from counties in the region – voted to go ahead with the formation of the tribunal.
In her statement, Doyle said she intended that “Blair County would at one point participate in a regional veterans treatment court that has yet to be established.”
Blair County already has two major treatment courts – a DUI court headed by Judge Daniel J. Milliron and a drug addiction court overseen by Judge Timothy M. Sullivan.
These treatment courts “Treat skillfully” participants, many of whom are veterans, she said.
However, the judge added “We welcome any chance for veterans to receive additional services. … Blair County will thus join the mission of reducing recidivism and honoring veteran service by providing veteran offenders the opportunity to participate in intensive treatment and veteran-focused surveillance programs.
The terms and timing of any county’s participation remain to be determined, she concluded.
The only veteran among the Blair County judges is Wade Kagarise, and he has expressed his enthusiasm for the ongoing effort.
“I support the Regional Veterans Court. I think that the fact that the court is regional is useful ”, he said.
He said this would allow many small counties in the region to provide services to veterans.
Kagarise believes Blair County should be part of the regional system due to the need for the Van Zandt VA Medical Center here.
“It’s an opportunity to help veterans so they don’t reoffend. I think it’s a win-win situation ”, he said.
According to Zanic, the new court will assign two judges who will travel to participating counties to hold periodic hearings.
Kagarise said he would be interested in participating as a judge.
He noted that a veterans court would still seek accountability to those who committed crimes, but that this effort would also provide treatment to address the issues that lead to recidivism.
It also supports the use of seasoned mentors who will work side-by-side with court participants to resolve their issues.
“Veterans are the kind of people who want to continue serving. … It’s an opportunity to change veterans who need help ”, he said of the mentoring program.
Zanic said planning for a veterans treatment court began in February 2020.
Zanic and others have studied the regional veterans courts that operate in Michigan and developed the rules and regulations that the regional court will follow.
The planners worked with the processing court supervisor of the Supreme Court administrative office.
As of now, the proposed regional court is a ” work in progress “, Zanic said.
But he added, “We are very excited.”
Salisbury runs a veterans court in County Clinton, but is also interested in the regional concept.
He said, “Too often we see veterans in small counties fall through the cracks just because they never knew there were options available to them. By creating this new regional court, we are giving veterans in rural parts of the state the same chance to have a positive outcome as veterans in more metropolitan areas.
Cambria County has for years operated a Veterans Court overseen by Judge Timothy P. Creany.
This tribunal has had more than 200 graduates over the years, according to figures released three weeks ago.