Ryan Weld Introduces Veterans Court Bill

West Virginia Sen. Ryan Weld has introduced his bill to re-establilsh veterans courts in the state.

Senate Bill 40 establishes a Military Service Members Court program within the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, with the Supreme Court’s administrator charged with overseeing the program.

The measure calls for the establishment of two veterans courts by July 1, with two additional courts being added annually over each of the next four years. There would be 10 courts established by July 1, 2024 in the areas of the state “with the highest need,” according to the legislation.

The original bill introduced on Jan. 9 called for the establishment of a “Mental Health and Military Service Members Court.” But Weld, R-Brooke, said the scope of the measure has been narrowed to establish only a court for veterans.

Those eligible to participate would have to have served in the armed forces, and have been charged with a criminal offense that could be attributed to factors resulting from their time in the military — such as addiction or other mental-related disorders.

Leading each court’s team would be a judge, magistrate, mental hygiene commissioner or hearing officer. The prosecuting attorney would be a participant, as would a public defender, probation officer, case coordinator and a treatment provider or peer recovery coach.

Members would come forth with a written agreement for each individual defendant, setting forth provisions for their proceeding in the court. The plan would assess whether the defendant’s issues could be addressed through mental health or anger management counseling, or through substance abuse counseling, Weld explained.

“If they successfully complete the plan, their sentence could be reduced or dismissed, or they could be incarcerated,” Weld said. “There is a myriad of options based on the situation.”

“The goal of this court is to address the issues of someone who is criminally dependent as a result of something that happened to them in their service in the military. … The team would come up with best way forward to treat the individual and address what brought them to the court in first place.”

Weld acknowledged the issue of veterans in the court system hits close to his heart. He is assistant prosecutor in Brooke County, and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

“The sad part is in the 1st judicial circuit — where we had a veterans court — it was working well,” he said. “It was a great program. But (former) Chief Justice Alan Loughry got rid of program in 2017 because he said there was no funding. He really did away with something that did very well for our courts in the Northern Panhandle.”

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