West Virginia Sen. Ryan Weld Will Push for Return Of Veterans Court
WHEELING — West Virginia Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld believes a court that addresses the issues faced by veterans and those with mental illness is again needed in the state.
When the Legislature convenes in January, he said he plans to introduce a measure re-establishing a Mental Health, Veteran and Service Members Court within the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Weld, R-Brooke, also serves as assistant prosecutor in Brooke County. He said he sees issues each day in court that are exacerbated by mental health issues, such as drug and alcohol addictions.
Often, he said, those defendants are veterans.
“The 1st Judicial Circuit used to have program like this, but it was discontinued by (former Justice Allen Loughry) … ,” he said. “As both a veteran and assistant prosecutor, I see it as a worthwhile endeavor.”
Weld’s bill would seek to re-establish the court, which he said is valuable to individuals with underlying issues “that have brought them to the criminal court system that need to be addressed in other ways than incarceration.”
He described the Mental Health, Veteran and Service Members Court as having worked similar to the drug courts in West Virginia.
“It would be open only to veterans or active members of military, or people found to have mental health issues,” Weld said. “It is a way to address issues that may have caused a person to commit a crime, and help define why.
“They can get the help they need, rather it be through counseling, metal health services or substance abuse treatment,” he said. “It could also could include incarceration if determined by the court.”
Those convicted of crimes of violence, crimes of a sexual nature and crimes involving children would not be eligible for the program, he said.
Veterans often have difficult transitioning back to civilian life, and may have lingering issues surrounding there service. Post traumatic stress disorder and head injuries also can affect their behavior and decision making abilities, according to Weld.
“This can lead them to be in situation where they are having a difficult time financially — either with credit cards or check forgery,” he said.
In addition, veterans often have drug and alcohol issues that lead to driving under the influence and corresponding convictions.
“This court could help address these issues, instead of putting them in jail,” Weld said.
At present, Weld’s legislation establishes no timeline for completing the court program, but that could be inserted at a later time, he said.
Weld said he looks forward to the upcoming session, which will be his fifth in the Legislature.
“Every session brings a unique problem or challenge,” he said. “This is a new Legislature with a new speaker, and new members in both houses. Getting to know everybody presents both challenges and opportunities, and brings new ideas to the table.
In addition to his role as majority whip, Weld is vice-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chairman of the Military Committee, and vice chairman of the Workforce Committee.