As part of their continuing push to be proactive, the Fayette County State Court is officially working towards starting a Veterans Treatment Court.
“Our goal is to identify and help veterans. They put their lives on the line, and now we need to try to do better for them,” said Judge Jason Thompson. “The program is designed to help those veterans who have substance abuse, mental health, and/or PTSD issues.”
In a similar vein to its DUI/Drug Court, the Veterans Treatment Court would aim to assist eligible veteran defendants facing misdemeanor charges who face substance dependency or mental illness. They would be diverted through a specialized criminal court docket that substitutes a treatment and problem-solving model for traditional court processing.
“Before we had accountability courts, we treated everybody the same. Not anymore,” said Thompson.
There would be an anticipated 10 participants in the first group. A team of court staff, veteran health care professionals, veteran peer mentors, and mental health professionals help the participate develop and complete a judicially-supervised treatment plan.
“This program will match them up with a mentor. They will get help, and they will continue to be a productive member of community,” he said. “They will be a taxpayer and not sitting in jail being a tax waster.”
Since its inception in January 2016, the Fayette County DUI Court has saved local taxpayers an estimated $450,000. Along with financial savings, it also reduces recidivism and promotes rehabilitation and creates a pro-social behavior that strengthens core values.
“They save lives, they save families, they save jobs, and they save money,” said Thompson of accountability courts. “Just think about what we can do with that extra half a million dollars.”
With the approval of the Board of Commissioners, the court will be seeking an implementation grant of $118,169 from the Council of Accountability Court Judges, with the county kicking in a 10-percent match of $13,129. The county’s share will be funded from court funds and participant fees.
Thompson acknowledged it is just the beginning in supporting our community’s veterans.
“It’s a good first step, but it’s only the first step.”
Kenneth Koon, founder and executive director of Armed Forces Mission, believes a Veterans Treatment Court could be an important tool in assisting veterans in need. Koon and Armed Forces Mission specialize in suicide prevention among veterans, and he estimates he’s personally done over 800 interventions. He’s seen veterans struggling through trials and tribulations, and he thinks a more personalized and expedient process could help.
When a veteran might be stuck in a dark spot, the program could be a reminder that all is not lost.
“Hopefully it could build up their resilience and renew hope,” said Koon. “It’s a more speedy process, so they’re not stuck in a dark spot for a long time where they’re ruminating on dark things.”
Traumatic experiences form their service could trigger erratic behavior behind the missteps, and an accountability court means they won’t all be treated with the same cookie cutter approach.
“We’re trying to move people in a positive direction, rather than penalize, “ he said. “It’s about rebuilding the broken warriors who have sacrificed so much.”