WMU-Cooley develops veterans' court mentor handbook for Supreme Court

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Though judges and court personnel are justifiably praised as the founders and sustainers of veterans treatment courts, those courts would not be nearly as successful without the mentors who volunteer to help the veterans succeed.

That is why Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement started off with a deep and heartfelt thanks to all the mentors present at a luncheon in Lansing last Thursday. “After attending many veterans treatment courts graduations across Michigan, I have seen living proof that these programs truly solve problems and save lives,” she said. “But these successes couldn’t happen without a key element: the veterans who volunteer their time to be paired with vet court participants.

 “One of the mentors told me, ‘I do this because I can’t save the friends I lost,’” she added.

The large luncheon group was attending a Veterans Treatment Court Mentor Boot Camp that lasted until Friday, May 16, sponsored by the Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals and held by Justice for Vets, a national training group.

Justice Clement joined Brigadier General Michael C.H. McDaniel of Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School, Karen McCloskey of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, Judge Richard Ball of the 54B District Court in Ingham County, and others at the luncheon to announce a newly-developed manual to help those mentors do the best possible job.

General McDaniel, who is now the Associate Dean of the Lansing Campus for WMU-Cooley as well as a professor there, wrote and oversaw the research of a group of students (see below) to create “Veterans Treatment Courts in Michigan: A Manual for Mentors & Mentor Coordinators.” He had previously produced a manual for judges wishing to start veterans treatment courts using similar methodology.

McDaniel demonstrated he spoke the language of the veterans present when he likened the mentors to a battle buddy (assigned by the Army to each soldier for back-up and support) – which produced nods and agreement all around.

Gen. McDaniel explained that the 2013 legislation codifying veterans treatment courts in Michigan did not mandate mentors, but as more treatment courts come into being, the role of the mentor is increasingly crucial. After the judge handbook came out, the Supreme Court Administrative Office encouraged McDaniel to create a similar one for mentors.

Karen McCloskey of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency also played a large role in production of the manual, and spoke on behalf of the MVAA to say she hopes the booklet will be useful for potential mentors well into the future.

And Judge Richard Ball of Ingham County’s 54B District Court’s nearly-ten-year-old veterans treatment court also expressed his deeply-felt gratitude to the mentors, acknowledging in particular one long-time mentor present, Yolyn Hollingsworth. “He doesn’t have to come to court with the person he’s mentoring, but he always does,” Judge Ball said. “He provides a great service.”

Veterans treatment courts have been a big part of the success story of the various problem-solving courts in Michigan, as evidenced by the courts’ 2019 annual report. In it, Justice Clement, who is the Michigan Supreme Court liaison to problem-solving courts, quotes Jeff Baldwin, a graduate of the Kent County Veterans Treatment Court as saying, “This program gave me structure. It gave me a reason to live, basically. Having a huge veteran base around me – I just would not have that without this program.”

The new manual itself calls the mentor component “key” and adds, “Veterans are better served by having a support system that includes someone who understand military experience and the different aspects of military culture.”

It goes on to list the mentor responsibilities, requirements and qualifications; talk about the boundaries of mentorship and the need for confidentiality (noting that threats of self-harm, suicide and harm to others are not confidential); and offer a number of tools and resources, including sample mentor training agenda and a veterans treatment court feedback form.

The largest section is for veteran mentor coordinators, including ideas about where and how to recruit mentors, how to match them with participants, and logistical considerations, for example, addressing the possibility that transportation may be problematic.

In addition to Karen McCloskey of Veterans Affairs, others who helped put the manual together include WMU-Cooley Law School students Tracie Lemon, Julie Lawler-Hoyle, John O’Neill, Natalie McPherson, Jeremy Tatum and Desiree Benedict, who helped Gen. McDaniel by conducting mentor interviews to determine best practices. The aforementioned Justice for Vets and the Buffalo and Tulsa veterans treatment courts provided useful resources and recommendations as well. 

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