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Blair to join regional veteran court plans

Judge announces county’s intentions for treatment program

Blair County intends to join a regional veterans treatment court “in the future” that will serve eight area counties, according to President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle.

The judge issued a statement commenting on an effort being led by Huntingdon County Judge George Zanic and Clinton County Judge Michael Salisbury to establish a court that will provide mentoring and treatment for veterans who face criminal charges.

The effort is in an attempt to help veterans who might have gotten into trouble for reasons related to their service.

Zanic said attempts to create a regional court involving multiple counties is being encouraged by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices Debra Todd and Kevin M. Dougherty.

It also has the backing of the General Assembly, which will provide funds to support the court.

Last week the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts reported that the attempts to establish a regional court in this area are underway.

The court is to include Huntingdon, Blair, Clearfield, Juniata, Perry, Centre, Mifflin and Clinton counties.

“Far too often, individuals find themselves in our courtrooms feeling defeated and as if hope is lost,” Zanic stated.

“By crafting a regional treatment court, we would be offering a chance for our veterans to face their challenges with support of their peers and the entire treatment court system,” he said.

Zanic in a telephone interview said he would like to see the court in operation by next July.

He said the judicial administrative unit — which includes the judges from the counties in the region — have voted to move forward with the court’s formation.

In her statement, Doyle said that it is her intent that “Blair County would participate at some time in a yet-to-be established regional Veterans Treatment Court.”

Blair County already has two major treatment courts — a DUI Court led by Judge Daniel J. Milliron and a Drug Court under the supervision of Judge Timothy M. Sullivan.

Those treatment courts “ably treat” participants, many of whom are veterans, she stated.

The judge added, however, “We welcome any chance for veterans to receive additional services. … Blair County will thus join in the mission to reduce recidivism and honor the service of veterans by providing veteran offenders the chance to participate in intensive treatment-based, veteran-focused supervision programs.”

The manner and timing of participation of any county is yet to be determined, she concluded.

The only veteran among Blair County judges is Wade Kagarise, and he expressed enthusiasm for the effort that is underway.

“I support the regional veterans court. I think the court being regional is helpful,” he said.

He said it will enable many of the area’s smaller counties to provide services to the veterans.

Kagarise believes Blair County should become a part of the regional system because of the need with the Van Zandt VA Medical Center here.

“It’s an opportunity to help veterans so they won’t reoffend. I think it is a win-win situation,” he said.

According to Zanic, the new court will assign two judges to travel to the participating counties to conduct periodic hearings.

Kagarise said he would be interested in participating as a judge.

He commented that a Veterans Court would still seek accountability from those who committed crimes but the effort would also provide treatment to address those issues that lead to recidivism.

He also supports the use of veteran mentors who will work side-by-side with court participants to address their issues.

“Veterans are the type of people who want to continue to serve. … This is an opportunity to change the veterans who need help,” he said of the mentoring program.

Zanic said planning for a Veterans Treatment Court began in February 2020.

Zanic and others studied regional veterans courts that are operating in Michigan and have been putting together the rules and regulations that the regional court will follow.

The planners have been working with the treatment court supervisor in the Supreme Court’s Administrative Office.

As of now the proposed regional court is a “work in progress,” Zanic said.

But he added, “We are very excited.”

Salisbury operates a veterans court in Clinton County but is interested also in the regional concept.

He said, “Too often we see veterans in smaller counties falling through the cracks of the system, simply because they never knew there were options available to them. By establishing this new regional court, we’re giving veterans in rural parts of the state the same chance at a positive outcome as those in the more metropolitan areas.”

Cambria County has for years operated a veterans court supervised by Judge Timothy P. Creany.

That court has had more than 200 graduates over the years, according to figures released three weeks ago.

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