Troubled Vets Find Help Through Camaraderie and County Court
by Susan Neuhalfen
Veterans who are in trouble with the law are finally getting the help they need. The Veterans Treatment Court Program in Denton County is specifically designed for veterans who have a criminal case or charge pending in Denton County to help them get treatment in order to resume productive lives.
The program began in 2008 when the Center for Mental Health Service began investigating ways to decrease the number of veterans who were getting in trouble with the law. Instead of focusing on the punishment, they decided to center the program on providing veterans with the treatment pertinent to their experiences.
In order for a veteran to qualify for the program, in addition to having a charge or case in Denton County, one must be in active duty or separated from military service and have an injury, disorder or trauma resulting from that service.
“Depending on the charge, the DA makes the decision to send them to Veterans Court,” said Roy who acts as a mentor in the program. “If it’s too violent a crime obviously they won’t send them here but for most veterans who have something like DWIs or substance abuse charges, it forces them to get the treatment they need.”
One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance abuse issue. Many veterans return from their tours unable to handle the experience. When veterans from Vietnam and earlier tours came back the mental health system did not know how to identify PTSD or mental disorders and, in turn, did not know how to treat them so many were in trouble and incarcerated. Now they are working toward solutions for veterans which is where other military personnel, like Roy, come in.
Veteran Treatment Court is held in County Criminal Court No. 3 under the direction of the Denton County Judge David D. Garcia. There are three phases to the treatment before the veterans may graduate from the program. They must attend bi-monthly meetings with a judge, mandatory treatment sessions and random testing for substance use.
“The curriculum is very strict,” said Roy. “They will also provide counseling for the family members if necessary.”
They begin with counseling almost immediately. For those with drug and alcohol addictions, they will meet with a substance abuse counselor. There is one Marine Corp Leaguer who holds a meeting every Monday night and many choose to go there and talk with other members of the military instead of general program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Bob Wands is the veteran who started this substance abuse program in Denton County— the first one of its kind – and many have followed suit.
“There is a lot of peer support in these groups because these people have all been through similar experiences,” said Roy. “Many come to the class even after they graduate.”
In addition to their meeting with the judge and attending counseling, each veteran is assigned a mentor which is where people like Mark Roy come in. They have to check in weekly with their mentor though Roy says many check in with him every day. Sometimes they just call to vent, sometimes they need advice or encouragement. The mentors are required to report the veteran if he or she does not contact the mentor at the time designated. Roy said that they have a lot of mentors and at least three are Vietnam Vets which is fortunate for the older veterans looking for someone
“The peer to peer support is great because they have someone to talk to even after they graduate,” said Roy. “We’ve found that camaraderie helps them to work out other issues, too.”
If all of the requirements are completed and the veterans graduate from the program, the record is expunged of the charge and they are ready to begin a new life.
Roy says he and the others involved make sure to attend every graduation.
“It’s such a celebration for all of us when they graduate,” said Roy. “We’re all brothers and sisters. We want them to succeed.”
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