CHICAGO (AP) — A law passed last year requires every judicial circuit in Illinois to have a veterans treatment court starting Jan. 1.
The courts allow veterans who were honorably discharged to plead guilty to a crime in exchange for a probation sentence, The Chicago Tribune reported. The sentence requires frequent court visits and mental health or substance abuse treatment.
Veterans can also apply to have their records expunged upon completing the sentence. Those who use the courts typically face lower level felonies.
Supporters say the program will help those who risked their lives for their country.
Army veteran Gregory Parker enrolled in the Lake County Veterans Treatment and Assistance Court after his fourth drunken driving arrest resulted in a felony reckless driving charge. Parker graduated from the program in about 18 months. He's quit drinking and continues to go to therapy.
"I finally find myself enjoying things in life I've never enjoyed before," he said.
But some wonder if every community has the resources or the need for a court dedicated to veterans.
Some rural communities may only have a few veterans moving through the court system, said Michelle Rock, executive director of the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice, which provides support for treatment courts statewide.
"We know that it may not be cost-effective for every county in the state to have one," she said.
Before the new law, Kane County officials weighed the need for a veterans court with the availability of resources and decided against offering the court, said Court Administrator Doug Naughton.
The overall court system should be improved, instead of offering one group more options, said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois.