More veterans commit suicide each year than were killed in the 10 years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
That statistic alone justifies the team effort that has resulted in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit’s Veterans Treatment Court for Pike and Coffee Counties, according to the man who is the driving force behind the second such court in the state of Alabama.
Twelfth Judicial Circuit Judge Jeff Kelley outlined the origins and purpose of the three-year-old treatment court for those attending the Coffee County Republican Committee meeting Feb. 13.
“We’re dealing with the longest war in American history,” said Kelley about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Many veterans returned home strengthened and for those we are proud,” he said. “But many returned with issues they have been unable to shake.”
Half the veterans returned with mental health issues, one in six returned with substance abuse issues, one in five have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury, Kelley said.
“Without treatment of the underlying issues, many veterans face time in jail or prison, without family and stuck in a cycle for which they cannot recover,” Kelley said. “And we witness that daily in our judicial system.
“A treatment court is manpower intensive,” Kelley said crediting Twelfth Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Anderson for active support of the program since its inception. “Tom and I traveled to the second largest veterans treatment court in the country in Tulsa, Okla., to observe a treatment court there,” Kelley said. “Tom agreed to allow his pre-trial diversion staff to serve as treatment court coordinator here.
“All applications to veterans court are directed to the district attorney’s office and district attorney office staff assist in the preparations of the extensive documentation required,” Kelley said. “The district attorney’s office provides a prosecutor and helps to coordinate court schedules and treatment plans.”
Joining Kelley and Anderson on the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Veterans Treatment Court Advisory Board are Coffee County Sheriff Dave Sutton, Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas, Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell and Troy Mayor Jason Reeves.
“Also, we have volunteer mentors that we assign to each person,” Kelley said. “We try to have mentors from each branch of the service and both male and female. That is what makes our program so successful.”
Kelley said that interested citizens can assist in a variety of ways to include volunteering as mentors, with transportation to the VA clinic, or attending a session of WTC court to offer encouragement.
Kelley said that support from the city of Enterprise has been tremendous. “One thing we decided to do is work with our municipal courts,” Kelley said. “There we are dealing with misdemeanors and the idea was to address the issues before they became more serious.”
Three veterans graduated from the local treatment court the first year, 12 the second year and 15 veterans are currently enrolled.
“Veterans that participate in veterans court are statistically less likely to re-offend,” Kelley said. “It’s all about holding people accountable and getting them treatment to improve the quality of their lives and the lives of their families and the community.
“Veterans court is not only saving money, it is saving lives,” Kelley said. “There is a 98 percent success rate of participants in veterans court.
“These folks served our country,” Kelley said. “We owe it to them at least to give them a hand up.”