Leighton Courthouse’s Veterans Court could be a vet’s lifeline

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TIMOTHY C. EVANS, Chief Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County, is pictured with marine veteran and Cook County Circuit Court Judge William H. Hooks who presides over Veterans Court.

By Atty. Lori Roper and Atty. Brian Scanlon, Cook County Public Defender’s Office

WVON radio has an ongoing program directed to America’s veterans. Host Cliff Kelley dedicates his time and efforts to ensure listeners on WVON receive timely and accurate information regarding veterans and veteran’s benefits. Kelley’s program airs both locally and nationwide via the internet radio.

On the program which aired January 25, 2020, Kelley welcomed Supervising Attorney Lori Roper and Assistant Public Defender Brian Scanlon from the Cook County Public Defender’s Office. Attorneys Roper and Scanlon were available to discuss current issues in Veterans Court at the Leighton Courthouse, formerly known as 26th and California. The attorneys took calls from online listeners.

The program’s subject matter was dedicated to two issues. The first was to update the community on the current issues in Veterans Court. Inside the Leighton Courthouse, Judge William H. Hooks, a former Marine and co-host, heads a specialized court call dedicated to veterans on probation and in need of services. The second issue was to open the calls to anyone needing advice on veteran’s benefits.

In order to qualify for Veterans Court and appear before Judge Hooks an individual must be a veteran with an honorable discharge or less than honorable discharge. The case before Judge Hooks must also be of a non-violent nature. As explained on the program Judge Hooks’ specialized program is a team effort.

The new client comes into his courtroom where he/she is assessed, and his/her benefits are determined. Depending on a person’s discharge status there are various benefits that maybe offered to an individual.

Veteran’s Court is a participatory courtroom where both parties decide if they want to accept each other. Once a person enters the program there are four stages. A team from the VA, Judge Hooks, Attorneys Roper and Scanlon, the prosecutor, and probation evaluate the needs of an individual and set goals.

As discussed on the program, the veterans program has four stages. As a person meets goals he/she graduates a level. Benefits come with moving up in stages. The client is given referrals for housing from Housing and Urban Development VA Supportive Housing (HUD VASH). Vets in the program get other benefits such as cell phones and bus cards.

The goal is to build a solid foundation in the vet’s life so he/she can move forward and accomplish the goals agreed to with Judge Hooks’ courtroom team.

There is also an additional benefit at the end of an individual’s probation. The attorneys discussed that the prosecutor’s office will dismiss the person’s charges and vacate the conviction upon successful completion of Judge Hooks’ program. The individual is then directed to Cabrini Green Legal Aid to help with expunging their record and returning to society with a cleaner record.

During the program attorneys Roper and Scanlon also took calls from individuals with various questions on veteran benefits. If the question could not be answered immediately the caller’s information was taken and they were called back with resources to answer their questions.

Attorneys Roper and Scanlon are looking forward to returning to Kelley’s show and bringing more co-hosts to provide additional insight into veteran’s benefits.

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