Ingham County Veteran's Treatment Court celebrates first graduation

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By Roberta Gubbins

Legal News

Judge David Jordan expressed concern that the fire Marshall would be upset at the crush of people in his courtroom attending the one year anniversary of the Ingham County Veteran's Treatment Court (ICVTC) and its first graduation. On March 1, 2011, two veterans were given their certificate of graduation in a ceremony held in 54B District Court.

Judge Jordan expressed "gratitude to those of you who have served or are serving in the armed forces for all that you have done."

He went on to recognize those that support the program including the VFW, the County Veteran's Council, treatment providers and volunteer mentors for the veterans in attendance for the ceremony.

"The concept of veterans Court is to give the veteran who is in trouble a chance to get their life back on track. The folks graduating today have completed their program," Judge Jordan said.

He called each graduate and their mentor in turn to the front of the courtroom. Chief Probation officer, Matthew J. Brundage, presented a certificate of graduation and a medallion to the graduates in recognition of their completion of the requirements of probation.

The graduates expressed their thoughts about the program saying,

"This is a great program and they are doing a lot for the Veterans who, unfortunately, found themselves in the system. I appreciate the opportunity to participate."

"Thank you to everybody here. I am extremely proud to have been a part of this and I hope to see it grow in other towns and states. A lot of guys are coming back to a world that they are having a hard time with and I really hope that the program will grow."

Brad Thomas, father of a veteran currently going through the program said, "I can not speak highly enough of this program and the positive effect it is having on my son, Trevor. He is getting the treatment he needs--he is going back to school. The best call I ever made was to Fred Bell with The Nichols Law Firm, who told me about Veteran's court."

The ICVTC integrates alcohol and drug treatment and mental health services with supervision of each Veteran's probationary case. The court helps Veteran Defendants access treatment using the sources available to them from the Veterans' Administration.

"The treatment requirement varies from defendant to defendant, but typically requires 12-18 months of probation," said Kelly M. Spenski, Planning and Event Coordinator for IVCVTC.

"The treatment includes evaluations for substance-abuse and mental issues. Defendants usually go to AA or ARSR meetings. We also help them look for employment or go to school, take care of obligations such as child support, and so on. As you can see, it is tailored to each defendant's individual needs."

"The charges vary," she said, "the bulk of what we see are drug and alcohol-related. The majority are DUIs, but we also have domestic violence, receiving stolen property, and other miscellaneous cases."

The Court's position is that "soldiers suffering from various military-related ailments, such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), do not choose how they manifest their conditions. It may be by drinking, doing drugs, or it may be via anger-related crimes. Given that, we look at each situation and determine if our type of treatment program could be used to make a difference. Granted, we do have a list of felonies that we won't accept, but, in general, if treatment could help the individual, and victim is agreeable, and the prosecutor is willing to allow it, we take it."

"This court is definitely a cost-saver to taxpayers," she said. "We strive to keep defendants out of jail and only use such a sanction as a last-resort. Most of the treatment is paid for by the various Veterans benefits organizations. We also have the support of other services supplied to veterans, like Eagle Vision, which assists many of our veterans in locating employment."

She noted that the "court does have underlying administrative and other costs associated with its programs. There is training and recruitment of the veteran mentors, who are an integral part of the court's program. They stand side by side with the defendant through their program and really help them through it. The court relies heavily on incentives, like bus passes and dinner cards, which can be costly."

In an effort to provide other services such as transportation, finding housing or gaining job skills, the court has established an underlying 501(c)(3) corporation. This corporation is able to accept contributions on behalf of the court. The corporation has also established a website at www.inghamvtc.org.

The program is a collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Ingham County Circuit Court, 54A, 54B and 55th District Courts, Ingham County Prosecutor's office and local police agencies.

Published: Mon, Mar 7, 2011

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