Judges and government leaders joined veterans in Mineola Wednesday to celebrate the opening of a new specialized Veterans Court in Nassau County.
The court, in First District Court in Hempstead, will aim to identify veterans whose crimes -- usually nonviolent -- are related to mental health or substance abuse issues they developed as a result of their service, court officials have said.
Veterans who are found to be eligible for the court would be given the chance to plead guilty and get treatment for the underlying causes of their problem rather than go to jail.
"We are hopeful this initiative will make a positive difference in their lives and bring to our veterans the specialized resources needed to help them navigate the criminal justice system," said Nassau County Administrative Judge Anthony Marano.
In addition to Marano, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills,) Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and former state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler spoke at the event.
"Our criminal justice system needs to acknowledge that veterans before the court very often are different than the often isolated incidents that landed them in court," Rice said. "The unique and heroic backgrounds of veterans make them both ripe for comprehensive treatment and worthy of our system's time, energy and focus."
A marching band and a Marine Corps honor guard were at the ceremony, and military tanks stood guard outside the courthouse.
It will be the eighth such court to open statewide.