Ingham County Veterans Treatment Court is on schedule to start in April

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

The first session of the Ingham County Veterans' Treatment Court (ICVTC) will be held on the first Tuesday in April.

This specialty court, to be created by a local administrative order, will include the 30th Circuit Court, 54A, 54B and 55th District Courts.

It will be held at 54B District Court under the direction of Judge David L. Jordan.

The ICVTC will integrate alcohol and drug treatment and mental health services with supervision of each veteran's probationary case. The court will help veteran defendants access treatment using the sources available to them from the Veterans' Administration.

The VA provides "a whole package of benefits--medical benefits, mental health, individual and family counseling benefits, assistance with homelessness, job training, and educational benefits.

"Educational benefits are one of the reasons we see a lot of veterans in this area because they attend LCC (Lansing Community College) and MSU (Michigan State University)," said Jordan, explaining the new program to a full house of ICBA Criminal Law Section lawyers at their monthly meeting held at the Michael Franck Building recently.

"The difference between the current wars and the Vietnam war is that the soldiers returning now have had four or five tours of duty.

"They often have traumatic brain injuries--they often don't have proper medication and self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. And there are problems of domestic violence," Jordan said of 54B explaining the nature of the problems faced by the courts when working with veterans who find themselves in trouble with the law.

"How do we identify the veterans?" he asked. "The police know when the person they stopped hands them a military ID. I think defense attorneys should ask 'Have you ever served in the armed forces including the National Guard?' People who have served in peacetime don't think of themselves as veterans but they are. Generally speaking, these are folks that were honorably discharged.

"The consent of the prosecutor and the defendant are both required to enter the program. All misdemeanors are nominally available and some of the four year felonies. It is not the charge but what they plead" that makes them eligible for the program.

"At the Veterans Court, which meets on the first Tuesdays, we will have a person from the VA with an encrypted computer who can get the person started by getting their DD214," which is a military record necessary to get their benefits.

"The bulk of their probation will be a series of steps that can take 18 months. After 15 months they graduate with a commemorative plaque, then they have three more months to wean them off (the services)."

In keeping with its mission to "Leave no Veteran Behind," the Veteran's Court will work to:

* Coordinate services between the court, probation, the Veteran's Administration and any service providers;

* Provide veteran mentors--an individual they can trust and can help with jobs, housing, or other problems as they appear;

* Provide probation mentoring and court supervision twice monthly;

* Coordinate feedback between the court, probation, veterans' administration, and service providers;

* Treat the needs of the veteran promptly and professionally.

It is estimated that the number of defendants that meet the eligibility standards will grow quickly. "We did a survey of just the district courts last March and there were 32 veterans on probation, the judge said.

"Does anyone know how you drive in Iraq?" asked Jordan. "In the middle of the road as fast as you can. So if someone gets a PTSD flashback, they will be driving down the middle of the road 80 miles an hour down the middle of the road because they don't want to get blown up. They will come in with reckless driving or driving on a suspended, a 93 day misdemeanor."

Jordan recognized that convincing this individual to complete 18 months of probation could be a hard sell.

"The experience of other veterans' courts is that once they get involved, they want to stay."

Initially, 54B District Court will provide current employees and space.

The Friends of the Ingham County Veterans Treatment Court is a 501 (C) (3) Corporation, which can accept donations.

Jordan will be seeking grants but "quite frankly, I will not be seeking grants that disallow any crimes of violence. We don't send these guys over to be nice, we send them to kill."

Fines and costs will be assessed and go to 54B District Court.

The ICVTC will be evaluated annually. The State Court Administrative Office will circulate evaluation forms to all partners and the Veterans will evaluate the program upon completion.

For more information, contact Jordan at:

djordan@cityofeastlansing.com.

Published: Wed, Mar 24, 2010

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