Reaching out U-M grad coordinates Veteran Mentor Program

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

George Washington once said, "A nation is judged by how it treats its veterans." And courts around Michigan and the country are helping veterans with legal troubles that are - or may be - due to mental issues incurred as the result of military service, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), mental trauma and/or substance abuse problems.

Jackson County is doing its part to help. The Veterans Treatment Track - an interagency, collaborative, treatment strategy within the Jackson County Recovery Court program - celebrated its first anniversary in January. The court meets at 2 p.m. on the first and third Fridays of each month in Judge Susan Beebe's courtroom, 5th floor, Jackson County Courthouse.

"I believe the district courts are key because they are the ones that will see the young veterans first, typically as first offenders," says David Van Hoof, coordinator of the Veteran Mentor Program. "The circuit court usually won't see them until they have committed two or more violations. We hope to, in the near future, streamline the process."

Currently 10 veterans are in the program, benefiting from VA screening, long term treatment and support from professionals who monitor their progress.

The program, lasting 12 to 16 months, has three phases, and includes random drug and alcohol testing, bi-monthly court sessions, treatment, intensive supervision and monitoring, curfews, AA meetings, reporting to a probation officer, community service and payment of court costs/fines.

Van Hoof serves on Judge Susan Beebe's Recovery Court team with coordinator Jake Stressman and Recovery Court specialist Newell Turpell. The Recovery Court team also includes a VA service officer from the Justice Outreach Program; assistant county prosecutor; Veteran probation officer; SA counselors from Allegiance Hospital, Allegiance Addiction Recovery Center, and Born Free; a defense attorney; and a detective from the County Sheriff's department.

The ultimate goal, Van Hoof notes, is to establish a Veterans Court of South Central Michigan, covering Jackson, Lenawee, and Hillsdale counties. Currently, Michigan's largest Veterans Treatments Courts are located in Genesee, Ingham, Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties.

Van Hoof, a graduate of the University of Michigan who earned his J.D. from Detroit College of Law, notes that prior to 2012, Michigan ranked 11th in percentage of veteran population but last in veteran services provided. Now Michigan has more veterans' courts than any other state.

He cites further statistics: fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population - or 3 million people - have served in the military since the terror attacks of 9/11, whereas 9 percent served during World War II. Fewer than 75 percent in the military - 2.5 million - deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom; and approximately 25 percent - 830,000 - have deployed more than once. Forty percent of those engaged in combat operations claim to suffer from PTSD or mental stress; and most distressing is the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide a day; twice the national average.

A retired Marine Corps major having deployed twice to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq, Van Hoof can empathize with these veterans and enjoys his role in finding mentors for the veterans in the program.

"Mentors are fellow veterans with similar military backgrounds, who provide a support structure and assistance with life coping skills, transition from recovery court, and relapse prevention," he says. "Working collaboratively with our team, they motivate participants through a strengths-based approach with the resources provided by the team members for matters beyond their scope of assistance.

"This population volunteered to make sacrifices to preserve our legal system; our whole way of life," he adds. "We have an obligation to support them. This is a young generation. They're coming back, looking for jobs, trying to adjust. The majority are doing great. Others have problems. We need to look at why they're having problems, and get them the assistance and support they need."

For more information on the program, or to become a mentor, call Van Hoof at (517) 414-6224 or e-mail david.w.vanhoof@gmail.com.

Published: Thu, Feb 26, 2015

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