Veterans Treatment Court is a program aimed at helping veterans who enter the criminal justice system as a result of their experiences during service.
On Saturday, the program based out of San Luis Obispo County celebrated its 10-year anniversary. The program began back in 2012, starting off with a few founders that shared the same idea and passion to help veterans.
Starting in Buffalo, New York, the Veterans Treatment Court program has grown nationally focusing on veterans.
“If they go through a program like Veterans Treatment Court nationally, the percentage of being charged with an additional crime later drops somewhere between 80%- 90% to 10%- 15%," said Bill Crewe, Central Coast Veterans Helping Veterans president.
In San Luis Obispo County, the first court session was back on June 14th, 2013.
“We have two kinds of programs within veterans court, we have Veterans Treatment Court right now we have six individuals, we see two to four graduate every year. We have [the] military diversion, those numbers are a little higher and those are for first time misdemeanor offenses," said Breanne Salmon, SLO County behavioral health clinician.
The Veterans Treatment Court is an intensive two-year program that includes meetings with counselors, being tested for alcohol and drugs, and also meetings with mentors.
The local nonprofit Veterans Helping Veterans is one of the main supporters of the treatment court providing mentors and funding.
“I attended funeral services for a young man who was an Army Ranger veteran. He had two deployments to Iraq, and he committed suicide. That very same day I volunteered to be a mentor with the Veterans Treatment Court," said Michael Patrick, who serves as a mentor.
Patrick has been a mentor since 2014 and said mentors with the same experiences who can empathize with the veterans are key.
“As a mentor, you have to be able to drink a lot of coffee you spend weekly visits with the veteran. We act as the pressure relief valve on the system of therapy that is in place," said Patrick.
At the end of the day, those playing a role in the program said it’s a chance to give back to our veterans.
“There’s a comment the judge always says. Adoption and Veterans Treatment Court graduations are the best days in court and I am happy I get to be part of one of those programs," said Salmon.
Veterans Treatment Court said they have been able to help a couple of hundred veterans stay out of jail and prevent crime from recurring through the program.