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Veterans Day: When vets run afoul of the law, these courts care

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But for a former service member trying to rebuild his life, the veterans courts offer multiple benefits. When vets walk into the courtroom, they have immediate computer access to local VA officials, who can refer them to services such as counseling, benefits, or job training.

"Many of the vets have claims that have been pending for years," says Jack O'Connor, the mentor coordinator for the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court. "The vet's getting more done in his first day with the judge than he's gotten done with the VA in his whole life."

Moreover, they are watched over by the court's volunteer mentors, who are vets themselves, and will often go to great lengths to help their charges. They drive them to counseling appointments hours away, and help them line up interviews and find housing, for example.

"When we go to serve our country, sometimes we don't realize that the sacrifice continues when we come home," says Philip Ippolito, a military veteran and team leader for the court's mentors, choking back tears at the graduation ceremony. "And because of that sacrifice, we struggle."

Are the courts just for criminals?

When word of these services got out, however, it did not sit well with some vets, who asked whether they would have to commit a crime to have access to care that they had been seeking through the VA and the Pentagon's bureaucratic channels, sometimes for years.

One afternoon, a veteran came into the court yelling. He wanted to know why those who were arrested got immediate services, but he, as a law-abiding citizen, had seen his claim languish with the VA for years.

His aggressive loudness led him to be "immediately taken to the ground," says Mr. O'Connor. "But we all heard what he said."

In response, the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court established what it calls its "line to the left." Anyone who wants help from a mentor of the court can come before the court and meet with them to get advice and help on their claim.

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