VA campaigns for Veteran Treatment Court in Lucas CountyWritten by Sanya Ali | | email@example.com
Many veterans return from war still carrying the burden of combat. Some deal with the struggles through therapy, some with the help of family. Others turn to substance abuse and end up in legal binds.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Ann Arbor Healthcare System hopes to change that. With the support of the VA Toledo Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), the VA Ann Arbor intends to establish of a Veteran Treatment Court in Lucas County.
Melody Powers, veterans justice outreach coordinator for the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, works with veterans to provide legal aid and medical attention during the trial process.
“Studies show if people have treatment available to them, they are able to avoid jail, get into treatment and don’t reoffend in the future,” Powers said.
Powers said she is also a part of the Veterans Justice Outreach Initiative, which is why she is campaigning for these courts.
The VA website states that the goal of the initiative is to “avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness and extended incarceration among veterans by ensuring that eligible justice-involved veterans have timely access to VHA services as clinically indicated.”
The idea for this veterans court was born three years ago, when Powers said Judge William M. Connelly Jr. of the Toledo Municipal Courts contacted her.
“He felt the whole county needed education regarding veterans coming back,” Powers said. “These were not the honorable men and women who needed to be in our jails.”
Powers said Connelly summoned her to do county training, to ensure veterans received proper treatment while incarcerated and in the court systems.
“At the end of the training [Connelly] really decided he was passionate about having a Veterans Treatment Court and bringing all of these players together to serve all veterans, especially knowing there were a lot of veterans returning from combat,” Powers said.
Powers said under the intended court system, a veteran who is experiencing legal difficulties can elect to be a part of the court for an 18- to 24-month trial period. Their sentencing will be pushed back until they complete the program, which includes reporting back to local VA for monitoring, community service and legal council.
If treatment is successfully completed with good behavior, “there is a chance the charges can be decreased or dismissed,” Powers said.
Powers said her supporters include the Toledo VA Clinic, county sheriff, the prosecutor’s office, the probation office and the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission.
“The Toledo Outpatient Clinic, which is very close to the court in Toledo, will probably be the primary resource for that court,” Powers said.
The first “graduation” ceremony for the Michigan court system took place June 18 and Powers said the stories are “inspirational.”
“[Veterans of the program] are giving back through community service; they just thrive,” Powers said. “And that is the goal of the program, to really give people the opportunity and resources to survive.”
Tags: Lucas County, Lucas County Veterans Service Commission, Melody Powers, The Toledo Outpatient Clinic, Toledo, Toledo Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), VA Ann Arbor Health System, VA Toledo, VA websites, veterans, Veterans Justice Outreach Initiative, William M. Connelly Jr.