Rather than send them to prison,
veterans charged with non-violent
felonies in Cook County, such as
drug possession or theft, have an
opportunity to receive probation if
they choose to appear in Veterans
In February the Cook County
Felony Veterans Court Program was
implemented as a way to increase
veterans’ understanding of services
available to them, such as job readiness,
housing, medical and more.
To date 35 veterans have appeared
in courtroom 204 at the Cook County
Criminal Courts Building, 2650 S.
California Ave. And of those veterans,
70 percent were Black, said
Mark Kammerer, director of treatment
programs for the Cook County
State’s Attorney’s office.
“It does not matter if a veteran has
past convictions. As long as their current
charge is a non-violent felony
they are eligible to have their case
heard in veteran’s court,” Kammerer
explained. “They have the choice of
pleading guilty and accepting probation
or they can plead innocent and
have their day in court, where they
could still receive probation.”
However, the only guarantee a veteran
has to receive probation is to
plead guilty rather than go to trial. If
not, they run the risk of being sentenced
to prison depending on other
factors, such as their background,
according to the program.
David Eggert, 56, appeared Friday
in the newly formed court before
Judge John Kirby to explain why he
missed an appointment with his probation
“I was sick, Your Honor. I had
pneumonia,” Eggert said. “I have my
paperwork to prove it, Your Honor.”
After providing proof that he had
been treated by a doctor, Kirby continued
his case until January.
The same day, another veteran was
tested for drug use and his results
came back positive.
This was his second time in one
week testing positive for cocaine.
The judge ordered him to undergo
120 days of drug treatment at Cook
County Jail where he will stay unless
he posts bail, which was set at
Eggert said he likes Veterans Court
because the people there are concerned
about the well being of veterans.
“These people are not here just for
a paycheck. They are here because
they care,” he told the Defender. “I
am glad such courts exist because the
other courts do nothing but lock you
up and throw away the key.”
According to Kammerer, the
majority of the veterans who appear
in Veterans Court are men but some
“I served in the Persian Gulf War
and was wounded so I was sent
home,” said Monique Stallsworth,
51. “I am here because I got caught
with drugs on me. I was selling them
to get some money but I was not
using it. I could have received two to
five years in prison but was given a
second chance if I complete my probation
and stay out of trouble.”
One veteran who appeared in court
Friday said he had no place to live.
Within two hours caseworkers had
found a place for him to stay.
Featherfist, a South Side homeless
organization, agreed to take him in at
their newest building, which opened
Dec. 7 exclusively for veterans.
Veterans Court is held 9:30 a.m.
the second and fourth Friday of each
month. In addition to probation, veterans
can also receive social services,
such as housing, education and legal
assistance, job training, mental and
substance abuse counseling.
“Believe it or not there are some
veterans who do not even know what
services they’re eligible for, so we
coordinate our efforts with the state
and federal Veteran Departments to
get vets the services they need and
are entitled to,” Kammerer said.
“And just so taxpayers know, this
court is not an additional cost to them
because even if the court did not exist
the vets would still have to go to
In January a second Veterans
Court is expected to open at the Cook
County Criminal Courts Building in
west suburban Maywood. The
unique court is modeled after
Veterans Courts in Buffalo, N.Y. and
San Diego, according to William
Schmutz, director/community liaison
for the Chicago Commission on
“This court came about after we
saw the courts in New York and
California doing so well with its
vets,” Schmutz said.
“We want to help our veterans not
lock them up after they serve their