Veteran Court: Does Your County Have One?

  •  
  •  
  •  
  • 1
  •  
  •  
  •  
    1
    Share

Military soldier in front of the American Flag

Veterans experience injuries during war that forever changes the rest of their lives. Some of these injuries are physical, some are mental, some are a combination of both. Even though they make it back home, the “war within themselves never goes away.” This constant internal struggle, combined with substance abuse, makes it easy for some of these veterans’ to acquire criminal charges.

These criminal charges are a result of the underlying problem: mental health and drug abuse issues due to military service. Signs of this often include: drinking or drug problems, feelings of hopelessness, shame or despair, employment problems, relationship problems (including divorce and violence) and various physical symptoms. The Veteran Treatment Court (VTC) in our county was created to help veterans’ with their mental health and drug abuse problems so that they have better tools to help themselves and to not be involved with legal trouble.

What is VTC?

The VTC is a voluntary program that includes regular court appearances before the Judge. Treatment includes weekly individual and/or group counseling, drug and alcohol testing, mental health treatment, and/or regular attendance at recovery support/self-help meetings. It’s possible to be provided with referrals for vocational training, education and/or job placement services. The program length will be a minimum of 15 months, maximum 18 months. Ongoing aftercare services is available to all graduates.

Entry into VTC is voluntary and will require veterans’ to admit guilt. They will be placed on probation for a deferred prosecution or in the pretrial release program. Supervision will include random drug and alcohol testing and unannounced home visits, during which both the veteran and their place of residence are subject to search. The VTC defense counsel will continue to represent the veteran throughout their participation in VTC. There is an initial 30-day “assessment period” in which the veteran may withdraw admission and request prosecution of their case, or during which an eligibility or suitability issue may arise which may disqualify them. Successful completion and graduation from the program may result in having the charges dismissed or significantly reduced and termination of probation. Failure or discharge from the program will result in prosecution for the veterans’ original charges.

Supervision

Veterans will be required to appear in court for progress reviews. The Judge will be provided information prepared by the VTC Coordinator with input from all other agencies, regarding the veterans’ performance in the program. If the veteran is doing well, he/she will be encouraged to continue with the program, and to work with their treatment team toward success. If the veteran is not doing well, the Judge will discuss this with you and your treatment team, and further action will be determined. With repeated violations or the failure to progress satisfactorily, the court may discharge the veteran from the program.

Program Rules

  1. Attend all ordered treatment
  2. Report to your Probation Officer or Pretrial Supervising Officer as directed
  3. Submit to drug and alcohol testing
  4. Be on time to all appointments including court appearances
  5. Fraternization between participants is prohibited

Treatment Procedures

The treatment team will assess what level of treatment will best meet the veterans’ needs and recommend to the Judge that he/she receives either outpatient or residential treatment. If the veteran is admitted to a residential treatment program, his/her treatment plan will include the requirements of that program. Upon release from a residential program, the veteran will continue his/her participation in the program as directed by the Court and treatment team. If the veteran is not admitted into a residential treatment program, he/she will participate in a multi-component, outpatient program developed through the VA, which includes developing a treatment plan, drug testing , counseling, recovery support services, recovery support/self-help meetings, and working with the veteran’s mentor. If the veteran is not eligible for VA services, he/she will be served by a community Mental Health/Substance Abuse provider.

Drug Testing

The veteran will be tested for drug and alcohol use at random times throughout the entire treatment process. During Phase 1, the veteran may be tested a minimum of two times weekly additionally he/sh may be required to wear an alcohol monitoring device. Treatment phases will be discussed more later. However, as you progress through the phases of the program, the veteran may be tested less frequently. The Judge and the team will have access may be tested less frequently. The Judge and the team will have access to all drug tests results, including any failures to test, and may order a drug test at any time. Relapses may occur in recovery. However, a positive, diluted or missed test will result in a court-imposed sanction. Tampering with any drug test will be deemed a positive test  and may result in program termination. The Judge will review the veteran’s overall performance in the program. Repeated offenses may result in progressively severe sanctions.

Counseling

Substance abuse counseling and mental health counseling is composed of two separate formats: individual and group. As part of the veterans’ treatment plan, he/she will be required to participate in both types of counseling if it is appropriate. Together they are designed to develop self-awareness, self-discipline, and coping mechanisms necessary to maintain the veteran’s sobriety. The veteran may be required to attend additional treatment such as individual or group treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The veteran may be required to attend counseling or other treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), anger management, parenting, or any other therapy the treatment team recognizes as necessary for the veteran’s well-being. The veteran attendance at both individual and group counseling sessions will be reported to the Judge as part of the veteran’s progress report. The veteran must have permission from his/her counselor to be excused from any counseling sessions.

Mentorship Program

The veteran will be assigned a volunteer veteran mentor from the community to support his/her efforts to create a better life. The veteran must meet with his/her mentor at regular intervals.

Recovery Support/Self-Help Meetings

The veteran may be required to attend recovery support/self-help meetings. The frequency of required attendance is determined by his/her progress in the program and his/her phase level. Attendance is an important part of the recovery process. The meetings will familiarize the veteran with the recovery support/self-help philosophy, and help the veteran to create social bonds with other recovering addicts. The veterans’ treatment team will provide him/her with information regarding the time and location of these meetings and will also direct the veteran to special interest and recovery events in his/her community. The veteran must provide proof of attendance to his/her health care counselor, Probation Officer and VTC Coordinator prior to each court appearance. The program requires the veteran to have a sponsor and work the steps of his/her program.

Treatment Phases

The VTC is a five-phase, highly-structured program, lasting for a minimum of 15 months and maximum of 18 months. Individual progress will vary. Each phase consists of specified treatment objectives and specific requirements for advancement into the next phase. Requirements for advancement from each phase are described below.

The assessment/selection period is a thirty-day period during which the veteran will decide if the VTC is right for them. At the same time, the VTC team will evaluate the veterans’ appropriateness for the program. During this period, the veteran will actively participate in the program. The Judge may extend this window if deemed necessary. Phase 1 includes the assessment/evaluation period. The veteran is subject to all VTC, VA, treatment providers, and Pretrial Release and Probation rules during this period. If the rules are violated, the veteran is subject to sanctions.

Phase 1-Treatment Plan Development

In Phase 1 the veteran will be assigned a VA Justice Outreach Specialist as well as a community Mental Health/Substance Abuse counselor, a probation officer and a mentor. The veteran will be assessed by the treatment team and their progress will be closely monitored and reported to the Judge. Requirements include the following:

  • Participate in full assessment in order to determine treatment needs. Course of treatment is individualized according to needs of the veteran.
  • Participate in all forms of treatment as directed by the treatment team.
  • Comply with additional case management services as determined by the treatment team.
  • May be drug and alcohol tested two times per week. Breathalyzer and immediate result drug tests may be used at the VTC team’d discretion, as well as a continuous alcohol monitoring device.
  • Take non-narcotic medication as directed by medical and mental health professionals.
  • Attend a minimum of two recovery support/self-help meetings per week and actively seek a recovery support/self-help sponsor
  • Participate in clean and sober recreation.
  • Attend twice monthly court appearances as determined by the Judge.
  • Curfew is set at the discretion of the team.
  • GPS monitoring for the initial 60 days.

Phase 2 – Ongoing Treatment

In Phase 2 the veterans’ treatment plan will be updated to identify ongoing treatment goals. Counseling and meeting will focus on areas that are challenging for you, and will identify ways of coping with stressful situations. Phase 2 requirements include the following:

  • Participate in all forms of treatment as directed by the treatment team.
  • Comply with additional case management services as determined by the treatment team.
  • Drug and alcohol test as directed. Breathalyzer and immediate result drug tests may be used at the treatment team’s discretion, as well as continuous alcohol monitoring.
  • Take non-narcotic medication as directed by medical and mental health professionals.
  • Attend a minimum of two recovery support/self-help meetings per week, maintenance of a recovery support/self-help sponsor.
  • Report to the VA Justice Outreach Specialist or community Mental Health/Substance Abuse program, pretrial or probation officer as instructed.
  • Participate in clean and sober recreation.
  • Maintain employment or engage in productive use of time such as community service and school attendance.
  • Formulate personal goals in conjunction with the treatment team such as vocational/educational counseling, psychotherapy, exercise, anger management and parenting goals.
  • Attend twice monthly court appearances as determined by the Judge.
  • Curfew is set at the discretion of the team, if required.

    Phase 3 – Stabilization/Mentoring

In Phase 3 the veteran will address ongoing recovery needs. The focus will be on daily living skills. This phase is designed to support you as a productive and responsible member of our community. Phase 3 requirements include the following:

  • Participate in all forms of treatment as directed by the treatment team.
  • Attend other treatment services as determined to be necessary by the treatment team.
  • Drug and alcohol test as directed breathalyzer and immediate result drug tests used at the team’s discretion.
  • Take non-narcotic medication as directed by medical and mental health professionals.
  • Attend a minimum of at least two recovery support/self-help meetings per week and maintenance of a recovery support/self-help sponsor.
  • Report to the VA Justice Outreach Specialist or Carolina Outreach Therapist along with the Pretrial and/or Probation Officer as directed.
  • Participate in clean and sober recreation.
  • Maintain full-time employment and/or progress toward an educational goal.
  • Participate in community service as determined by the team.
  • Attend court as determined by the Judge.
  • Curfew (if required) is set at the discretion of the team.

Phase 4 – Achievement/Graduation

In Phase 4 the veteran will transition from the VTC structure to a lifestyle more representative of what you will experience following graduation. Phase 4 requirements include the following:

  • Participate in all forms of treatment as directed/instructed by the treatment team and attend individual counseling sessions to complete an exit plan.
  • Attend other treatment services deemed necessary by the treatment team
  • Take non-narcotic medication as directed by medical/mental health professional
  • Attend recovery support/self-help meetings as determined by the treatment team.
  • Report to VA Justice Ourtreach Specialist or Carolina Ourteach Counselor and the Pretrial and/or Probation Officer as directed.
  • Participate in clean and sober recreation
  • Maintain full-time employment and/or progress toward a vocational/educational goal.
  • Continue established mentoring relationship.
  • Become a mentor to a new VTC participant pending approval of the veteran’s treatment team after a minimum of six months post-graduation.
  • Attend court as directed by the Judge.
  • Prepare a graduation speech.

Graduation

Once the veteran has successfully completed the criteria for each Phase, he/she will advance to the next level and eventually be a candidate to graduate from the VTC. The veteran will submit a graduation speech to his/her VTC Coordinator in which he/she will discuss his/her progress towards the goals he/she initially set, and why he/she believes he/she is ready to graduate. The final decision regarding advancement from each phase and graduation is determined solely by the Judge, assisted by input from the team. At graduation, the veteran may be given the opportunity to plea to a charge reduction or his/her case may be dismissed. The veteran’s family will be invited to join the veteran as the Judge congratulates him/her.

Conclusion

A candidate for the VTC program does not have to be diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, or other injuries to be accepted into the program. The only requirement is to be a veteran of the armed services. That said, the program has helped veterans that previously thought they had no service-related injuries receive disability benefits from the VA.

The VTC program is designed to help the veteran live in our community as a productive and responsible citizen. The Judge, the Court staff and the treatment team will guide and assist the veteran, but the final responsibility is the veterans’. He/She must be committed to change.

If you were a part of veteran court in your area, please let me know below if you are following a similar plan. If different, please let me know how it is different.

Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *