Restoring health and hope for our nation's veterans
Kane County (IL) is using alternative court programs to help military veterans heal their brains and their bodies
It’s no secret that many of America’s military veterans return home facing challenges. Over the past decade, organizations have highlighted the consequences of war: anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic injuries and the alarming suicide rate within our veteran community. There's no question that our veterans are suffering.
Law enforcement officers know this to be true more than most Americans as they encounter veterans experiencing mental health crises in the community. Many of these veterans have co-occurring issues involving childhood trauma, war trauma, military sexual abuse, mental health problems, and/or substance abuse. This congruence of problems can lead to veterans committing crimes and finding themselves in the criminal justice system.
Some communities around the country are looking for creative ways to restore veterans’ health.
Veteran therapeutic court alternatives
In 2018, the State of Illinois passed legislation requiring veteran therapeutic court alternatives. Judge Marmarie Kostelny is the presiding judge for Kane County (Illinois) Specialty Courts. She has more than a decade of experience working in therapeutic drug courts and mental health courts. She has seen amazing results in these courts and was excited when the veterans court was added to their court system.
“I asked for this assignment,” Judge Kostelny stated. She elaborated that traditional incarceration has a high recidivism rate with people struggling with dependency issues. This means veterans are rotating in and out of jail.
By contrast, a veterans court leverages available Veteran Affairs (VA) treatment and other resources to help veterans heal their brains and bodies. Veterans court clients have routine court appearances and close monitoring. If participants violate the court rules, the court can put sanctions on them.
Therapeutic court participants are required to plead guilty prior to being accepted into the program. If they refuse to comply with the judge’s orders, their court case immediately moves to the sentencing phase for their original charge with no jury or cross-examination.
Each participant is assigned a mentor who walks them through the process. Judge Kostelny stated that comradery enhances success.
Judge Kostelny stated that many people don’t know about the option of veterans court or the success stories. This led Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission Superintendent Jacob Zimmerman to recommend organizing law enforcement training.
Kane County Veterans Court Coordinator Philip Wessel was part of the LEO training class. Wessel said that the training was well received and informed officers about the benefits of the veterans court and the process of referring people to the program, as well as a block of instruction on PTSD and suicide awareness.
Wessel told me an all too familiar story of one of their veteran court participants who was a military veteran injured while serving who was prescribed opiates for pain and then became addicted to opiates, fraudulently obtaining opiates to feed their addiction. In Illinois, this is a felony charge. This veteran graduated earlier this year after a lot of hard work.
Zimmerman stated they plan to host another LEO training in the spring to further equip officers with resources to help our veteran community. Kane County’s Veterans Assistance Commission exists to help veterans access the benefits they earned for serving our county. To learn more about their work, visit https://www.countyofkane.org/Pages/Veterans.aspx.