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N.H. to open second court for veterans

Sessions focus on treatment of unique issues

NASHUA — New Hampshire’s first court dedicated to helping military veterans charged with crimes won’t be its last.

Veterans’ advocates and health care providers will meet this month to begin planning a similar court for Grafton County, near the White River Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Vermont.

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The first session of the Veterans Behavioral Health Track program was held last week in Nashua District Court, where three veterans facing various misdemeanor charges faced a judge.

Among them was Jimmie McNeil of Nashua, who served in an Army Rangers combat support division unit from 1981 to 1984 and in the Army Reserve for nine years after that.

McNeil, 50, was originally charged with felony theft for stealing $584 from a Nashua restaurant when he quit as kitchen manager over a long-running wage and overtime dispute. His crime was reduced to a misdemeanor, and he was referred to veterans court.

He told the Associated Press he trained hard as part of the elite military unit, and the notion to fight, kill and not take any guff from anybody ‘‘was pounded into our heads every single day.’’

‘‘When you get out, it doesn’t stop,’’ McNeil said softly. He explained that the restaurant owner’s refusal to pay what he had promised ‘‘put me in that defensive mode.’’

There are about 160 veterans’ courts nationwide. The first was founded in 2008 in Buffalo by Judge Robert Russell after he noticed increasing numbers of veterans on the docket of his drug and mental health courts.

Jo Moncher, chief of community-based military programs for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the mental health courts operating in many counties are not enough. She said veterans have unique issues.

‘‘They’re exposed to the horrors of war,’’ Moncher said. ‘‘They’re exposed to seeing men and women lose their lives.’’

She said many cope with depression, substance abuse, sleep disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder after leaving the service.

The veterans court will focus on intensive treatment to help get veterans back on track and keep them from repeating their crimes.

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