John Baker, Hamline JD ’03, is adamant about the need for Veterans Courts in Minnesota and the reasons why veterans need them.
"There were 3.5 million Americans who served in Vietnam,” he says. “Of those there were 1 to 1.5 million who suffered psychological injuries. Half of those had contact with the criminal justice system."
Baker is a criminal defense attorney who focuses on representing veterans in the criminal justice system. He has seen far too often that the first call for help from many veterans comes from the back seat of a squad car. And he wants to change that. It is this kind of concern and commitment that resulted in his recently being one of only 20 practitioners to be selected Attorney of the Year by Minnesota Lawyer. The honorees were chosen based on leadership in the profession; involvement in major cases or other newsworthy events; excellence in corporate or transactional services and public service.
In September 2009, U.S. Representative Tim Walz asked Baker to start veterans’ treatment courts in Minnesota. And start them he did. Baker spearheaded the effort to bring all the key players to the table. His efforts helped to connect the dots to develop a valuable program for veterans without costing the state additional money because it is comprised of already existing resources.
There are about 40-45 veterans going through that court with a 0% recidivism rate. Baker points out that the first Veterans Court in the country, started by Judge Russell in Buffalo, New York in 2008, has seen an almost 100% success rate in its program. He states that "it is good public policy as it will reduce the cost of having to incarcerate veterans in the long run." Veterans Courts are not a get out of jail card for veterans, but rather, it holds them accountable for their actions while at the same time getting veterans help for any psychological trauma they may have. The court requires veterans to follow a strict, personalized treatment program designed by the judge, probation officers, social workers, defense and prosecuting attorneys and the Veterans Administration. The goal is to expand the program throughout the state of Minnesota.
Baker’s work on behalf of veterans is based on a belief that "what we did after Vietnam was to incarcerate those veterans." A recent Rand Corporation study estimated that nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans -- 300,000 in all -- are returning with symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Only slightly half of those have sought treatment. Of that group, only half received minimally adequate treatment. Hennepin County, with the state's largest veteran population, is running the pilot program in Minnesota.
Baker believes "we owe it to this generation of veterans who volunteered to fight these wars to get them help. Veterans Courts will do that."