Justice Phil Berger Jr calls for better veteran support in NC court system
North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger Jr. is pushing for better support for veterans in Tar Heel state’s court system.
Berger’s idea is to have a checkbox on the Affidavit of Indigency form for veterans to check every time they walk into a courtroom charged as a criminal. This would enable the court to notify relevant individuals that the veteran needs services, such as medication, appointments with the VA, housing vouchers, or counseling services.
The Independence Fund, a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower “our nation’s catastrophically wounded, injured, or ill Veterans [and their families] to overcome physical, mental, and emotional wounds incurred in the line of duty,” is partnering with Berger on the checkbox initiative.
The yellow-highlighted section below would be the new addition to the Affidavit of Indigency form.
Berger believes North Carolina’s court system can do a far better job of helping veterans than it currently does. While veteran treatment courts and lawyers already assist active-duty military, Berger emphasized the need for more to be done to support veterans in the state.
Berger and Clark Pennington, a spokesperson for The Independence Fund, noted that many veterans struggle to reintegrate into society, with some experiencing homelessness and mental health problems.
Pennington stressed the importance of providing better support to these individuals and noted that the proposed initiative could be a positive step toward getting them on the right track.
Tim Kennedy, a former UFC fighter and American soldier, also spoke on behalf of the checkbox initiative and other efforts by The Independence Fund to help North Carolina’s veterans.
Another key initiative Pennington and Kennedy discussed was an effort to help law enforcement become more empathetic in dealing with veterans who have mental health issues.
At the Veteran’s Justice Initiative event, the speakers emphasized that these ideas would not guarantee a positive outcome for veterans in the criminal justice system, but they could make a significant difference in getting veterans the help they need.
When the checkbox initiative is implemented, the court system could track veterans throughout the process and offer unit counseling for those with special circumstances related to their military service.
“I’m passionate about this, and it’s something I’m working to improve,” Berger said. “Hopefully, it will bear fruit.”