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NYCDS testifies at City Hall about Manhattan’s Veterans Treatment Court

Testimony of

Sam Sloane

Trial Attorney & Veterans Court Specialist

New York County Defender Services

Before the

Committee on Veterans

Oversight Hearing – The Future of DVS

January 21, 2020

My name is Sam Sloane. I have been a public defender with New York County Defender Services for the past five years. NYCDS is a public defender office that represents people in thousands of cases in Manhattan criminal courts every year. Throughout my time at NYCDS, I have represented clients in both criminal and Supreme court, from arraignment through trial. Additionally, I have extensive experience with the various Alternatives to Incarceration offered in Manhattan Supreme Court; specifically, Judicial Diversion, Mental Health Court and Manhattan Veterans Treatment Court. This experience has led me to adopt my new role as the Veterans Court Specialist.

I was excited to learn about the important work that the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services is doing to support our city’s veterans, particularly in their work to end chronic veterans’ homelessness. Homelessness is one of the greatest challenges to ending the cycle of incarceration, and we welcome the influx of any city resources to target this problem. In my role as NYCDS Veterans Specialist, I have not yet worked directly with DVS or seen them in the Manhattan Veterans Treatment Court. Yet I would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with DVS and strengthen the connection between DVS and the court system.

At NYCDS, one of the first questions we ask at arraignments is whether our client has a history of military service. We do this for a number of reasons. From the outset, military service provides a well-deserved avenue for mitigation of a criminal conviction or sentence. Additionally, military service records can give us critical insight into the nature of some of the underlying problems facing the people we represent, such as drug addiction or P.T.S.D. Or maybe the client suffered a traumatic brain injury during a training accident and has never been the same since. We typically meet clients at particularly low moments of their lives; however, clients with a history of military service can often refer us to people who served with them and knew them as someone entirely different. This type of information is both crucial and necessary for our representation of our clients regardless of the charge.

Additionally, military service information is crucial for us to locate potentially beneficial services for our clients. Together with the help of our VJO (Veterans Justice Outreach), we connect eligible clients to VA benefits that they may either not be taking advantage or may not even know they’re entitled to. This can help with housing, treatment, and employment. We also work with the New York State Veterans Defense Project, who help us understand and obtain military records.

Finally, qualified candidates may be eligible for Manhattan Veterans Treatment Court, which is a treatment court set aside for individuals with a documented history of military service. MVTC is unique in that the clients are surrounded by other veterans. At every court appearance, the clients are met by peer mentors, veterans themselves, and the VJO to help navigate clients through the process. I have seen a number of clients turn their lives around because of MVTC.

Manhattan Criminal Court is located just a few blocks from 1 Centre St and a partnership between MVTC and DVS seems like a natural fit. NYCDS looks forward to working with both DVS and the New York City Council to ensure that all of our city’s veterans have access to the services to which they are entitled thanks to their military service and to help veterans limit or end future criminal justice system involvement.

If you have any questions about my testimony or New York County Defender Service’s work with veteran clients, please contact me at ssloane@nycds.org.