Put Valor Back Into
The Massachusetts Valor Act serves a worthy purpose. It allows judges to use discretion in ordering U.S. veterans who commit crimes to be placed in treatment and counseling programs rather than being sent to jail.
But questions have arisen whether the law, approved by the state Legislature in 2012, is being abused.
In a report filed by Sentinel & Enterprise reporter Peter Jasinski, legislators are looking into amending the law because of several cases where veterans used it as a “get-out-of-jail-free card”. That’s how critics have described the law’s unintended use as a “defense” tool in court cases.
We don’t believe the law should be eliminated.
However, it definitely deserves a legislative review, which is being endorsed by Boston state Senator Michael Rush.
What’s most disconcerting is that veterans -- an honorable lot if there ever was one -- would push the envelope on the Valor Act. Jasinski points to cases in which veterans have or are using the law to get charges dismissed for drunk driving and domestic assault and battery.
Clearly, these veterans need some form of treatment and/or counseling -- yet by using the law as a weapon against itself they’re basically skirting responsibility for their actions and medical aid.
The Valor Act was intended to help veterans, not put them in a position to possibly hurt others in a repeat performance of unlawful behavior.
We don’t believe any veteran worth their salt wants to be aligned with such a rare and disingenuous group. Yet, it’s happening too frequently to ignore.
Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr., told this newspaper, “We didn’t see this as much a few years ago, but we’re now seeing it more.”
According to Early, a Leominster police officer, who was arrested for drunk driving, is using the Valor Act as his defense. He could lose his job if the charge is upheld. However, the Fitchburg District Court judge is not going along, because the officer has shown little inclination to pursue “clinical care” as suggested by two counselors who evaluated him.
In other words, the officer is not taking the charges against him seriously. It’s the same point made by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a national group that is extremely critical of Valor Act dismissals for both alcohol and domestic abuse cases.
Certainly, there are veterans suffering from legitimate mental and physical illnesses incurred from overseas duty and other stressful assignments. If they make a mistake, the Valor Act gives them a chance at a second chance -- if it is deemed warranted by the court.
But confusion exists under the existing law. No veteran should be given an excuse to walk away from committing a criminal act without facing responsibility and making amends.
The Legislature has to issue more comprehensive guidelines as to when and how the Valor Act is to be honestly and confidently applied.