Joined by members of Suffolk County’s various veterans agencies, County Executive Steve Bellone announced on Wednesday that there would be a new court designed to rectify traffic violations for veterans.
The Veterans Traffic Court is the first of its kind in the United States, and will serve as a “one stop shop” for veterans, according to Thomas Ronayne, the director of the Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency, who will arrive needing to handle a traffic ticket but leave with resources and assistance that will help them assimilate back to civilian life.
“This is much more than just a court as one step,” he said. “This is a process.”
At a press conference in the Suffolk County traffic court, Bellone said that the purpose for this special court was to help veterans individually who have possibly accumulated fines for traffic violations while being overseas or could possibly face a license suspension for their violations. Bellone added that a major goal was to prevent veterans from having to appear in criminal court for minor infractions.
“This is an issue that is not just limited to Suffolk County, it is national in scope,” he said.
Bellone directed the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency to establish a specialized veterans docket day in which honorably discharged or current veterans who have traffic, parking, or red light camera citations pending will have the opportunity to participate in a special conference with a prosecutor. These conferences are held prior to the general public and will provide defendants additional time to explain the circumstances of their case.
Bellone also said that the program comes at “no additional cost to the taxpayer,” but actually the opposite.
“Once a veteran’s driving privileges are restored,” he said,” there are more opportunities for that individual to find a job, which means they are contributing to our local tax base.”
Ronyane emphasized that this program is not just meant for veterans who have recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, but for any veterans serving overseas across the globe who need this service.
“Just because they’re not on the news every day does not mean we don’t have Americans serving and sacrificing in those places,” he said.
According to a study done by the Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the top ten unmet needs of veterans was dealing with unpaid moving or parking violations and fines.
Former Dean of Tauro Law School, Kenneth Rosenblum told the New York Times that veterans losing their license was “a one-way ticket to homelessness.”
“If you don’t have a driver’s license on Long Island, you can’t get to work. You can’t get to medical treatment,” he added.
The first docket day for veterans was held on June 23, and Bellone claimed success on the first day, citing over a dozen dismissed cases, some veterans sent to diversion classes, and over $10,000 was estimated to have been saved in fees for those appearing.
“I believe that this veterans traffic court can become a model for the state and the country as a whole,” Bellone said.
Th VA estimates about 75,000 veterans live in Suffolk County, the most in any county in New York. The docket day for veterans will occur the third Friday of every month, starting at 2:00 p.m. in the H. Lee Dennison Building. Those interested should call 631-853-3930.