HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The nation’s first ever traffic court just for veterans has opened in Suffolk County which has one of the largest veteran populations in the country.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, veterans facing steep fines for moving violations now have a different option.
They’ll be seen by a judge who is a veteran himself, and offered special consideration — like in the recent case of a veteran who was rushing to the hospital.
“His wife said, ‘I went through the red light, I’m guilty, it’s the second time he tried to commit suicide.’ It became more important than a red light ticket,” Judge Allan Mathers explained.
Suffolk County’s new Veterans’ Traffic Court is a national first. It was instituted because unpaid traffic tickets can lead to a downward spiral, even homelessness.
“If they have PTSD it can turn into drug abuse, just literally from losing a license. It can ruin someone’s life,” Marine Corps veteran John Schultz said.
Veterans’ Traffic Court will meet once a month, there will be consequences, but also support services.
“This is not a pass, there is accountability for the infractions, but it’s done with a degree of compassion and empathy for the services these individuals have provided,” Thomas Ronayne, Director, Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency explained.
“No one who is dangerous is being turned back on the road. What we will do is offer programs that they must complete,” Paul Margiotta, Executive Director, Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency said.
County Executive Steve Bellone hopes to make it a national model.
“Those of us who didn’t serve, who didn’t leave our families to fight, we have significant obligations to the individuals who did,” he said.
In the first session 26 veterans saw the judge and 15 cases were dismissed. Fines were lowered by $10,000 and two veterans were sent to driver training to re-learn the dangers of speeding.
Suffolk County has about 75,000 veterans, the largest population in New York State.
Studies have found that Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have a 75 percent higher rate of fatal crashes than other drivers.