Veterans suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse may be able to go to new VETERAN court versus civilian court.
This past June, 33 Veterans Court Technology Clinic students and supporters watched as seven of their colleagues took part in the clinic’s first formal graduation ceremony. The clinic is part of a special drug court in St. Louis that provides an alternative to incarceration for veterans. It provides job skills for participants in the program.
“The Veterans Treatment Courts are an extremely valuable piece of the jurisdictional puzzle,” said Matthew Miller, a legal outreach coordinator with the Veterans Administration. “They’re an alternative to incarceration and they involve extensive supervision of participants on their dockets while they are able to stay in the community and work on recovery and treatment programs with a group of community assistance.”
The first such court started in 2008 in Buffalo, NY, and the program has expanded to 220 locations across the country—including in St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jefferson County locations
“Most of the vets that are participating have both substance abuse and mental health concerns when they come into court,” Miller said. About 20 percent of veterans that come to the VA for treatment nationwide come for some form of behavioral health treatment, Miller continued.
What is Veterans Treatment Court and how is it at play in St. Louis? "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh finds out.Kennedy Davis is a graduate of the Veterans Drug Court and is now the director of the Vet Court Technology Clinic (VCTC), which gives veterans (and others) job skills through computer training.
“From my perspective, I’m looking at these veterans who are in need of assistance and the ones that I had come across have different behavioral problems and some cannot fit into society because of these reasons. Veterans Court sits you down and focuses in on your needs—they look to see what they can provide to help you fit into society.”
Davis said that things changed for him when he was transferred to the Veterans Treatment Court for a drug offense, and the program set him up with a mentor. That mentor was Wilson (Woody) Powell, who is also the chair of the VCTC, and works with the court but not as part of the authority structure. That means that veterans can talk about anything with mentors and not face repercussions they might otherwise.
The VCTC started in 2012, the same year that Davis graduated from Harris Stowe University. He’s now working on his Master’s degree. The clinic provides job training skills as well as help for veterans searching for jobs. The clinic, staffed by five volunteers as well as himself, is funded by private donors.
“Right now, we’re kind of scrapping for resources,” said Davis. “But we make do.”
More than 200 men and women have gone through the Veterans Treatment Court in the St. Louis area, and this June, seven people graduated from the VCTC.
“Veterans Treatment Courts save money and result in better outcomes—both legally, in terms of recidivism, and in terms of treatment,” Miller said.