WELLSBURG, W.Va. — Brooke County Sen. Ryan Weld told MetroNews that his biggest priority out of the past legislative session was to reinstitute a veterans court program around the state.
It was mission accomplished for Weld as the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia will announce the establishment of the Military Service Members Treatment Court program with him on Wednesday at the Brooke County Courthouse in Wellsburg.
Weld’s legislation, Senate Bill 40, passed unanimously during the 2019 legislative session. The bill was to reinstate these specialized courts, which will serve both veterans and active service members.
In 2017, former Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry disbanded the program according to Weld, saying there was no longer enough funding for it. Weld said that was later found to not be the case given what the financial resources of the court were at that time.
Having no program in place was an injustice to veterans, Weld told MetroNews.
“Many of the veterans who find themselves in the criminal court system are there because of an issue that relates to their time in service, whether it be substance abuse or maybe they are suffering from a behavioral health issue,” he said.
According to a release from the Supreme Court, to be eligible for the specialized track of existing adult drug court programs, participants have to be charged with criminal offenses that can be attributed to their time in the military, such as addiction or other mental health disorders.
Circuits adding Military Service Members Courts are including them as a track in their Adult Drug Court, according to the Supreme Court. Veterans and active-duty military personnel will receive the same structure, support, and accountability as Adult Drug Court participants, but their treatment will be specific to their specialized needs.
Three Military Service Member Treatment Court tracks will be operational in the state as of Wednesday including in the First Circuit, in the Thirteenth Circuit, Kanawha County, and the Twenty-Fourth Circuit, Wayne County, according to Probation Services Drug Court Specialist Nicholas Leftwich.
Weld, an attorney, captain in the Air Force reserves and former assistant prosecutor, said this will give veterans more options.
“Instead of incarceration being basically one of the only options to the court and working with someone like that, now they can focus on rehabilitation and getting that individual the help that they deserve,” he told MetroNews.
Chief Justice Beth Walker, along with Justices Tim Armstead, Evan Jenkins, and John Hutchinson will be at the event starting at 1 p.m., along with First Circuit, which includes Brooke, Hancock, and Ohio Counties, Judges Michael Olejasz and David Sims. Other judges may attend.