GREENWOOD – As the nation prepares to honor and celebrate its veterans on Veterans Day, 8th Circuit Solicitor David M. Stumbo on Friday announced a new Veterans Court program component aimed at helping veterans obtain the help they need to battle issues such as substance abuse, mental health and other issues unique to veterans.
Since the program was first unveiled in 2014, dozens of veterans have been screened for Veterans Court and the new direction will help ensure that veterans are able to get the help they deserve after serving and putting their lives on the line for our country.
The centerpiece of the enhancements to the Veterans Court is a new mentorship program that places veterans in the program in a direct one-to-one program with members of the local chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and other veteran organizations.
“Our soldiers have seen a lot in foreign countries and in combat zones,” said Carey Bolt, Veteran Affairs Officer for Greenwood and Laurens counties. “It’s easy to pick up some bad habits in those places as a way of coping. This program will help veterans get reacclimated to living in peace after they have fought so bravely in war.”
When those bad habits take hold, veterans can find themselves in the crosshairs of the criminal justice system, and when that happens, Veterans Court can be a crucial tool in their recovery, according to John Penman, Adjutant for VFW Post 8131 in Greenwood.
“After past wars there wasn’t anyone to help soldiers re-acclimate to normal life,” Penman said. “This program allows us, as veterans, to reach out to and help our own at home just like we do overseas when we are at war. We also believe it sends a positive message out to the other veterans who haven’t gotten into any trouble yet. We are here to help them.”
Mike Sudik, Commander of VFW Post 8131, echoed that sentiment, adding that Veterans Court participants were not the only ones being helped through the new program.
“For (the VFW), it’s just a matter of being here, a friendly face, someone who has been in their shoes,” Sudik said. “We just listen. The more we listen, the better we can help them. And the more we help them, the more they help us.”
During the jail intake process, if an arrestee is a veteran of our armed forces, then the case file is immediately sent for review and screening with the Solicitor’s Office. In appropriate cases, the prosecutors will make the decision to refer the veteran for admission into Veterans Court. If the veteran qualifies for VA benefits, they will be admitted into the program.
Once admitted into the program, the veteran participates in bi-weekly group counseling, random drug and alcohol screenings, and other appropriate VA services. During each phase of the program, participants appear before a circuit judge every two weeks for Program Director Jami Steifle to give the judge an update on their progress. The judges, who volunteer their time to the program, are able to encourage those who are doing well and sanction those who are not completing the requirements of the program.
Once a participant has completed the program, a graduation ceremony is held and the participant receives a certificate. They can then have their record expunged of the crimes that landed them in the program to begin with.
Solicitor Stumbo said he felt that the nation’s veterans deserved an opportunity to shed the demons of war and get their lives back on track. Accomplishing that mission, Stumbo said, requires a collaborative effort with other agencies to develop creative solutions.
“We are proud of this continued partnership with Mr. (Carey) Bolt and the Veterans Administration to creatively deal with the issues facing our veterans as they return home from their time of service,” Solicitor Stumbo said. “The goal of Veterans Court is to help the men and women who served our nation, honoring their service by providing needed substance abuse counseling, mental health treatments and assistance with other needs unique to veterans. We want to successfully rehabilitate veterans by providing them with the tools they need to lead productive lives and this program helps us achieve that.”