By Elizabeth Varville, Correspondent
In March 2015, Bell County Veterans Treatment Court Program began. The program primarily serves Veterans who have been charged with a misdemeanor offense; assault, shoplifting, or disorderly conduct. In addition, military or combat-related experience contributed to the act of the offense. The goal of the program is to assist veterans or current soldiers through a supervised treatment while empowering veterans to become productive members of the community.
On March 24, the program’s members and assisting organizations gathered together at the Bell County Justice Center in Belton to celebrate the successful year’s anniversary with the addition of four new members and cutting of the cake.
“We started a year ago so we don’t have any graduates yet but we will later in the summer. We currently have 22 members and we are able to accept no more than 40. We are very excited about the program. As you can see, there are a lot of supporters for the program. We make sure they are accessing VA services, make sure their medications are being taken, and they are following through with their requirements. Once they have completed the program, they are free to move on with their lives,” said Bell County Probation Officer Todd Jermstad.
The program is not intended to avoid accountability. The participants of the program must have received a clinical diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); a condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), or a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression can be considered for the Veterans Treatment Court. The members are required to appear before the court twice a month and adhere to an individualized treatment plan to ensure success. The plan includes receiving assistance through Veterans service organizations and community treatment agencies. Each member is also assigned a mentor through The Military Veterans Peer Network. The mentors are Veterans themselves who volunteer their time to support and encourage the member through the process of the program. An appointed lawyer represents each member as they address the court during each session.
“This is a wonderful program and the success has been very encouraging. The members are given the resources needed to help guide them into the right direction,” said Attorney Ginese Simmons-Gilbert with The Law Office of Ginese Simmons-Gilbert.
The participants are required to read “Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior” by Retired Colonel Charles W. Hoge, M.D. of the U.S. Army and present to the court their findings and how the book related to them. The book is written to help soldiers returning from combat to transition back to home; rather it be as a soldier or citizen.
For more information on the program contact Samantha Haynes, Veterans Treatment Court Coordinator at 254-618-4125.