State appeals court overturns New Orleans judge’s order freeing seven defendants because of lack of money for their defense _lowres

Judge Arthur Hunter

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month … All was quiet on the Western Front.

This short verse refers to Nov. 11, 1918, the end of World War I. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11 to be Armistice Day — a day of remembrance and reflection on the tragedies of war. In 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day. Since then, Nov. 11 has been a day set aside to honor and thank those who have served and who currently serve in our nation’s armed forces. This day also is a day to remember those heroes who have passed and recognize their fight to ensure that Americans can enjoy the freedoms granted by our Constitution.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2013, America had 21.4 million veterans. The jobless rate for veterans is about 6 percent.

The 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, prepared by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, estimated that on a single night in January, 62,619 veterans were homeless in the United States. One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffers from a substance abuse issue, and research continues to draw a link between substance abuse and combat-related mental illness.

Since 2004, the number of veterans being treated for mental illness and substance abuse-related disorders has increased 38 percent.

Left untreated, mental health disorders common among veterans, such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, can directly lead to homelessness and involvement in the criminal justice system. The good news is that these statistics change for the better each year. The bad news is America still has a lot more work to do for our veterans.

Recognizing that these brave men and women are victims of a broken system and need our help, rather than our censure, I started the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Veterans Treatment Court in 2010.

This specialized court assists veterans who have nonviolent felony or misdemeanor charges in Orleans Parish. Veterans who come before me seeking the Veterans Treatment Court are assessed to determine whether they qualify for any benefits, including disability, education, housing and vocational training. They receive an individual treatment plan, which includes counseling, medical care and, if needed, substance abuse treatment.

The number of veterans who have participated in Veterans Treatment Court is 42. The total number of veterans who have graduated from the Veterans Treatment Court is 18. Seven of these veterans, who were once homeless, are no longer homeless and receiving their veterans benefits.

Happily, I am not alone in my efforts.

The Veterans Treatment Court is a collaborative effort that includes Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Southeast Louisiana Veterans Healthcare System, the District Attorney’s Office, the Orleans Public Defender’s Office, Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Probation and Parole, American Legion, Military Order of Purple Heart, The National WWII Museum, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Metropolitan Human Services. We come together to serve the men and women who have served us.

To all our veterans, thank you. For all you have given us, thank you. For all you continue to fight for, thank you.

Arthur L. Hunter Jr. is a judge in the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.