KLAMATH FALLS – Oregon’s first Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) began operation November 9, 2010, in Klamath County. The day began with a grand opening ceremony attended by local and state veterans, dignitaries and the public culminating the months long planning and implementation process to open the new court. The court was formed in response to increasing numbers of veterans coming before the Klamath County Circuit Court charged with criminal offenses. This phenomenon has been observed nationwide and led to the 2008 formation of this country’s first VTC by Hon. Robert T. Russell, Jr. in Buffalo, New York. Since then, jurisdictions across the country have mobilized to form VTCs to address the specific problems and treatment needs of justice involved veterans. Oregon’s VTC is the 45th such court in the nation.
Why Veterans Treatment Courts
From WWII to OIF/OEF and all eras in between, some veterans have returned to their communities with health problems that interfere with responsible social functioning. When not properly treated, these health problems can lead to unemployment, homelessness and repeated involvement in the justice system. Based on a successful, evidence-based treatment court model common to Drug Court programs, a VTC prioritizes treatment over incarceration. Nationwide studies of the treatment court model over the past twenty years validate its effectiveness and cost savings to the public. For every dollar invested in treatment courts, the public saves an average of $3.36, by reducing the costs of incarceration and repeat offending. The veteran benefits by gaining wellness and restoring honor. The community benefits through increased public safety.
How it works
Key to the operation of the Klamath County Veterans Treatment Court is the collaborative partnership of the judicial system, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the county Veterans Service Office, veterans service organizations, community agencies and volunteers. Members partner in a treatment team which convenes before each court session to review cases and develop problem solving court recommendations. This coordinated response addresses an array of issues from community protection and restitution to offender rehabilitation. Weekly court appearances afford close judicial supervision of the veteran defendant’s progress. The court hands out encouragement and sanctions as warranted. A distinguishing feature of Veterans Treatment Courts is the assignment of a veteran peer mentor to each defendant. The support afforded by a healthy role model who has “been there” contributes to the success of the defendant. Linking the veteran to rated VA and VBA benefits funds treatment services while helping the defendant get back on his or her feet.
Not for every veteran offender
To enter the program the defendant must plead guilty the offense. This willingness of the veteran defendant to accept responsibility for the offending behavior is the foundation for positive change. Some charges, such as Measure 11 offenses, felony weapons offenses, sexual offenses and commercial drug offenses render the defendant ineligible for the program. The District Attorney’s office may screen away any case when victim or community safety cannot be reasonably assured. As the VTC is a treatment court, the veteran must be diagnosed with a treatable substance abuse and/or mental health disorder. Admission decisions are made by treatment team review incorporating prosecution, defense, probation and VA treatment personnel recommendations.
From vision to reality
Development of the Klamath County Veterans Treatment Court began with discussions between Klamath County District Attorney, Ed Caleb and Klamath County Veterans Service Officer, Kathy Pierce. Caleb and Pierce broadcast a call to veterans service organizations, VA treatment personnel, attorneys and court personnel leading to formation of a planning committee. This committee met weekly to discuss the problems of justice involved veterans and resources available to address those problems. Treatment court personnel from the Oregon Judicial Department guided program design to follow the established successful model adopted by other jurisdictions in the country. Implementation planning accelerated when the Klamath County team became one of 11 jurisdictions nationwide to attend a week long pilot training for the establishment of Veterans Treatment Courts. This training, presented and funded by the Veterans Treatment Court Planning Initiative of the National Drug Court Institute and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, was held in Buffalo, NY last October. The Klamath County team returned home understanding the best practices necessary to implement a successful VTC.
The promise of Veterans Treatment Courts
“Veterans have a whole different bag of ghosts they carry,” says Ron Ballard, Commander of the Klamath Falls VFW. When those “ghosts” lead to the veteran becoming involved in the justice system, a Veterans Treatment Court is able to respond in a manner cognizant of those ghosts and the interventions necessary to bring wellness to the veteran defendant. The VTC is a special program but is not a “get out of jail free card.” The participating veteran must admit guilt and participate in a rigorous program of treatment and community service. The close judicial supervision of the veteran’s compliance and progress brings a high level of accountability to the process. By assuring veteran participation in rated VA and VBA services and benefits, the VTC seeks to recognize the veteran’s service to our country while administering justice for the veteran and the community.
The outstanding feature of Veterans Treatment Courts is the collaboration among justice system and VA/VBA personnel. These partners have done their jobs independently for years. At little additional public expense, combining forces to create coordinated responses to veteran offending and treatment needs promises improved outcomes for the veteran who has run afoul of the law. To learn more about Veterans Treatment Courts visit nadcp.org.
Treatment Court Coordinator
13th Judicial District
316 Main Street
Klamath Falls, OR 97601
541 883-5503 x263
FAX 541 882-6109