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.”