Funds sought for Blount Veterans Treatment Court

Daily Times, The (Maryville, TN)
By Joel Davis

DATE: March 25, 2015

Blount County has one last piece of the puzzle to put in place before it can have a completely operational Veterans Treatment Court.

Division II General Sessions Judge Michael A. Gallegos told the County Budget Committee on Monday that fully funding the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget request for the existing Drug Court program will let the nascent veterans program kick into gear.

”All that we lack to forming a fully functioning veterans court is the county’s participation,” he said during a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I have already spoken with and have commitments to participate from the appropriate state and federal agencies.”

The Veterans Treatment Court program is meant to offer “coordinated substance abuse and mental health support to military veterans caught up in the criminal justice system,” according to the website of the 5th Judicial District program.

Drug Court is asking for a $109,824 increase in additional staffing and compensation to allow it to serve more clients.

Each veteran is assigned a substance abuse counselor and also offered a mentor, who is also a veteran. The veteran participants are then provided veteran-specific sessions in conjunction with the other sessions and therapies offered to all Drug Court participants.

”Our veterans court could and should be placed under the current county’s (Drug Court),” Gallegos said. “If the county will properly fund and staff the current recovery court to handle their current caseload, they have agreed and will be able to absorb the additional work that a veterans court will create.”

There are 200 Veterans Treatment Courts operating across the country, Gallegos said.

Blount County Veterans Affairs Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum said the new treatment court is a good thing. “It is going to benefit so many veterans that find themselves on the wrong side of the law,” he said. “Anything that would help a veteran … we’re for it. It’s already proven itself and it works. We can’t wait to see what the future holds with it.”

Currently, there are two veterans in the program in Blount County, Weinbaum said. “They would be sitting in jail right now not getting the help they need for post-traumatic stress disorder and drug or alcohol counseling. It gives them direction instead of just being locked up in jail. It gives them a way to better themselves when they have found themselves in such a bad situation. We are 100 percent in support of it.”

Veterans face very specific challenges, Gallegos said. “A lot of cases have to do with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This ends up manifesting itself with … drug and alcohol problems, which can lead to criminal problems and ultimately brings them into the court system.  It’s basically a recognition that there is a need to try and process these cases along the treatment avenue.”

Veterans in jail

The Sheriff’s Office has been tracking jail admissions and has learned that more than 20 veterans are incarcerated during an average month. “So, there is a definite need that needs to be addressed,” Gallegos said.

Blount County can benefit from the program as well as the eligible veterans. “Not only is a veterans treatment court a very worthy cause and, frankly in my opinion, a responsibility that Blount County should step forward and take on, it also will have a positive effect on our jail population problem as would expanding other recovery court tracks,” Gallegos said.

Other than staffing the current recovery court appropriately, there will be no additional costs to the county to have a fully functioning veterans court, Gallegos said. “I hear people saying we should do more for veterans. If you want to do more for them, this is how you can help.”


National Vietnam Veterans Day

March 29th is “National Vietnam Veterans Day”, and a day for us to recognize these heroes and welcome them home in a way they did not receive upon their return home from the war.  Two events will be taking place in Knoxville to commemorate and recognize our Vietnam Veterans.  I hope many of you are able to make one or both of these events.


The first event of the day is being hosted by Rolling Thunder, TN Chapter 3, and will be held at 11:00 am in the Cherokee Ballroom of the Knoxville Downtown Hilton Hotel which is located at 501 Church Ave.  (see attached flyer for details about the event).  Free parking is provided at the Locust Street Parking Garage located across the street from the Hilton.  Master of Ceremonies will be Don Dare from WATE-TV, who is a Vietnam Veteran.  Guest speaker information can be found on the attached flyer.  Contact for this event is Sue Dauber and she can be reached at 865-603-6066 if you have any questions.


Come one, come all. Local VVA Chapter 1078 will be celebrating “National Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” March 29th at 1:30 at the East TN Veterans Memorial at World’s Fair Park, which is located behind the Holiday Inn Downtown Knoxville.  They will honor Vietnam Veterans listed on the Memorial with a Welcome Home Wreath, have a speaker or two and join with one another on a day set aside to give them the Welcome Home so deserving of all Vietnam Veterans. Please join your fellow chapter brothers for this event, and they promise it will not be any longer then need be on Palm Sunday.   Contact for the VVA event is Chapter President Rich Gill who can be reached at 865-933-7493.

Veterans to share suicide prevention resources

Friday, March 20, 2015 >> News Sentinel

A study published last month suggests that veterans’ suicide rate might be as much as 50 percent higher than the general population.

And, said the study published in February’s Annuals of Epidemiology, veterans are most at risk of suicide in the first three years after returning from active duty.

Help exists, though, and two local Vietnam veterans want to make sure fellow vets — and their families — know where to find it.

On Saturday, Ed Junod and Freddie Owen of the Knoxville Regional Veterans Mental Health Council will discuss services such as peer support, court treatment program assistance and recovery groups.

The presentation, sponsored by the Mental Health Ministry of Grace Lutheran Church in Oak Ridge, will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the church’s fellowship hall, 131 W. Gettysburg Ave. Child care will be available.

Junod and Owen also will talk about Knoxville Regional Veterans Mental Health Council’s program to aid churches in becoming “veteran friendly” congregations.

Combat veterans can face a number of mental health-related issues upon coming home, the two said. Problems such as post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety can be debilitating and affect both veterans and their families — and these issues can be present immediately upon a veteran’s return, or surface years or even decades later.

A 2012 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study suggests 22 veterans per day commit suicide — one every 65 minutes. But that number likely is low, since the study looked at only 21 states and didn’t include every veteran in those states.

For more information, call Sharon Boudreaux at 865-385-3556.

News Sentinel staff

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