Vince was stationed in Afghanistan for 9 months. His daily routine didn’t alter much from day to day; he wore his uniform, gun ever at the ready, always alert. There was no such thing as a weekend, no need to keep a calendar. The only date that mattered was the day he could return home.
After four years of service, camps, assignments, trainings, and deployments, he finally returns home. He unpacks mementos from his deployment along with other, unwelcome souvenirs: PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Finding work is difficult; he is unable to sit in a confined space or feel at ease around groups of people. After months of seeking work, he begins the harder battle of seeking VA benefits and disability. (In 2014, 32.7% of Texas Veterans had a disability rating of 70-100%. https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/organization/twic/Veterans_in_Texas_2016_Update.PDF )
His days are long and blend together. He doesn’t have much to take his mind off of the past. He may not be sitting at a post, but he continues to watch for the enemy. Vince is still a young man and a soldier, full of a quiet energy. What sedates the pulsing nerves? A beer? Drugs?
One night, Vince runs out of beer and drives to get more. He finds himself on the other side of the law that he so fiercely defended. He made a career of following orders and respecting the chain of command. During his 9 months of deployment, he was the best of the best, one of the elite, the few, the proud. After his first 9 months stateside, he is now referred to as “defendant”, “felon.”
I wish this story was fiction, but I see it every day. As a defense attorney, I’ve represented a handful of them. Recently and unexpectedly, I joined the staff of the Williamson County Veterans Treatment Court as the court coordinator. Over the last two months, I have met over sixty men and women fighting against the statistics. I have also discovered that many people in our community don’t know about the program and the incredible work that is happening in Williamson County.
The Veterans Court is led by Judge Laura Barker in County Court at Law Number 2. The program is available for veterans charged with a crime related to their service. Vince’s DWI charge, a possession of marijuana charge, or even an assault that happened because a veteran felt threatened are all examples of crimes related to military service. The Veterans Treatment Court Team is made up of a prosecutor, two defense attorneys, probation officers, a representative from the VA, treatment providers from Bluebonnet Trails Mental Health Authority, a therapist, representatives from Williamson County’s Veteran Services, and almost 40 veterans that serve as mentors for the participants. A large portion of the staff are veterans themselves: veterans helping veterans. All of the participants are supervised on a one- or two-year probation and receive a treatment plan that is specific to their needs and their charges. Many plans include extensive substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, meetings with probation officers and mentors, and community service.
The philosophy behind the Veterans Court is focused on treatment. These soldiers have given so much of themselves in their service, and we need to give back to them. Our entire community benefits when a soldier receives treatment and sees change. It is an incredibly intensive program with drastic results. In my short time with the program, I have seen fearless soldiers thank the team for changing the course of their lives.
Why am I telling you this?
Some of you may not be veterans, or ever find yourself in Veterans Treatment Court. However, Williamson County has the 10th largest population of veterans in the State of Texas. Travis county has the 7th largest. (https://www.texasbar.com/Content/NavigationMenu/AboutUs/StateBarPresident/TexasLawyersforTexasVeterans/TexasVeteranPopulationbyCounty.pdf) Odds are that you know a veteran. You may be a business owner that could hire a veteran. You may be a part of an organization that needs volunteers. You may want to donate to the Veterans Court Foundation. It takes a village!
Below are several important links:
- Veterans Court Application if you or someone you know is charged in Williamson County and could benefit from the program. http://www.wilco.org/vetcourt
- Heroes Night Out – If you or a vet you know may benefit from the knowledge and experience of other veterans. http://heroesnightout.org/
- Bluebonnet Trails- if you or someone you know is suffering mental health or substance abuse issues. http://bbtrails.org/
- Texas Veterans services- https://gov.texas.gov/organization/disabilities/veterans
- You can reach me at Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the Williamson County Veterans Treatment Court.
LEAVE NO VETERAN BEHIND