“It is not often that one gets to sit in and listen to a pioneer. Today we are going to have that opportunity,” said senior Disabled American Veterans (DAV) leader, David Gorman, of the Honorable Robert Russell, the 2016 DAV Distinguished Speaker. Pioneer is an accurate description of Judge Russell, who founded the nation’s first Veterans Treatment Court in Buffalo, NY in 2008. He started and continues to lead the movement to create adjunct court systems designed specifically to meet the needs of our nation’s veterans.
On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, Judge Russell delivered the 2016 DAV Distinguished Speaker Lecture at Harvard Law School. Reflecting on his January 2008 founding of the Erie County Veterans Treatment Court, Judge Russell explained that the idea came to him after noticing an increased number of veterans appearing before him in two existing problem-solving courts: the Drug Court and the Mental Health Court. He recognized that many veterans have a difficult time readjusting to life after service, a struggle which makes this community more vulnerable to mental health issues and addiction. The unique circumstances surrounding veterans inspired Judge Russell to ask the question, “What can we do to afford the best opportunities for our veterans?” His answer was to propose a court program designed specifically to address the underlying needs of veterans in the criminal justice system and connect them with the benefits and treatment that they earned in service.