FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 14, 2013) — A specialty court in Jefferson County is the first in the state dedicated to serving veterans involved in the criminal justice system, members of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection heard yesterday.
Based on the drug court model, the Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court (JCVTC) is a four-phase evidence-based program for veterans charged with non-violent crimes.
The goal of JCVTC is to identify and address veterans’ needs so they can return to productive lives and reintegrate with society, according to Judge David Holton of the Jefferson County District Court.
Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or other mental illnesses and sometimes self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, Holton said.
“Combining mental illness with drugs and alcohol is like adding gasoline to fire,” he said. “The results are often broken homes, failed marriages, homelessness, unemployment. And these are all factors that lead directly to the criminal justice system.”
The 18-month Veterans Treatment Court program is voluntary for eligible veterans and involves counseling, random drug testing, case management, support groups, community service and mentorship. A team including court staff, mental health professionals and Veterans Administration employees create an individual treatment plan for each participant.
“I don’t want anyone to believe this is a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is a very rigorous program,” Holton said. Veterans are required to attend five to seven rehab meetings each week, in addition to mental health treatment appointments, he said.
Several lawmakers expressed interest in expanding the Veterans Treatment Court program to other areas of the state, including the Fort Campbell area in Christian County.
“There are some who would criticize specialty courts as too much social work and not enough legal work. … Until we conquer substance abuse, these courts are going to have to reach out to these men and women – in the military or otherwise – to solve the problem … We need veterans courts all over this state,” said Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville.
The program is being funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs. Morehead State University is monitoring the program to evaluate its effectiveness.