Philadelphia Veterans Court to be launched in ceremony today

This morning, a several judges and other dignitaries were scheduled to attend the formal launching of Philadelphia Veterans Court.

The court - the first of its kind here - will provide qualified veterans in the criminal-justice system with a range of services, including linking them with representatives from the Veterans Administration who will determine benefits eligibility, as well as veterans' suitability for an array of VA programs dealing with housing, job training, job referrals and treatment for alcohol, drug, mental-health or medical issues.

Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Okla., and Colorado Springs, Colo., are among the cities that have begun creating these courts due to the steady increase in the number of veterans who end up in legal trouble - many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other afflictions. Buffalo, N.Y., opened the first such court in January 2008.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., hosted a congressional hearing in Pittsburgh to discuss the possibility of opening veterans courts across the state and country - a proposal he has endorsed.

Philadelphia Municipal Court judges Patrick Dugan and Joseph Waters, both decorated veterans, have been tapped to serve as presiding judges of the city's new court.

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, also decorated veterans, led the effort to establish the court and will do likewise to expand similar courts across the state, according to a statement issued on behalf of the First Judicial District.

Today's ceremony, at the Criminal Justice Center in Center City, was expected to include President Judge Pamela Dembe, of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas; President Judge Marsha H. Neifield, of Philadelphia Municipal Court; District Attorney Seth Williams; and Chief Executive Officer Ed Lowry, of the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service and Education Center.