CROWN POINT | Some U.S. military veterans face myriad challenges when they re-enter civilian life, including homelessness, employment problems, mental health issues, substance abuse and encounters with the criminal justice system.
A problem-solving program called the Lake County Veterans’ Treatment Court will officially debut June 11 in the courtroom of Lake Civil Court Judge Julie Cantrell in the Lake County Government Complex, 2293 N. Main St., Crown Point.
The Veterans’ Treatment Court “is an opportunity for veterans from any walk of life to receive counseling and treatment for such issues as substance abuse, (post-traumatic stress disorder), anger management, monetary problems,” Cantrell said about the innovative criminal justice intervention effort she and Civil Court Judge Sheila Moss have worked on together for the past two years.
The need is great, Cantrell said.
“We book 40 to 80 veterans a month here in Lake County,” she said.
Veterans treatment courts are a national movement, Cantrell said.
“Our veterans are not receiving treatment. They have additional needs. Substance abuse is not necessarily the core problem. If they get proper treatment, it will solve other problems. It’s a ‘whole person’ approach,” she said.
However, a lack of funding for the veterans court has been a stumbling block for the past two years, Cantrell said.
“We’re never going to stop asking the Lake County Council for funding,” she said. “I’ve spoken with Rep. (Pete) Visclosky about this. Mara Candelaria Reardon said this didn’t make it through the last (Indiana) General Assembly session. It will be brought up again.”
Credit for finally getting the Veterans’ Treatment Court to launch belongs to Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez, Cantrell said.
“Last fall he offered to let us piggy-back on his re-entry court program. We are able to use the same people he has for that program,” she said.
Personnel from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department Community Corrections program also will be used to monitor participants in the veterans court.
In addition, mentors who are veterans are needed to meet weekly in the community with participants, she said.
A training program for mentors will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Lake County Government Complex.
Another cost-saving part of the program comes through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is providing treatment. Cantrell said the VA must approve the court program and sets eligibility standards for those who are selected to participate.
“The participants must be eligible for VA services. That means they must be honorably discharged,” Cantrell said.
Those who received a general discharge from the U.S. armed services can go through the VA to become eligible, but it is their responsibility to pursue that opportunity, Cantrell said.
Currently, veterans who received a dishonorable discharge won’t be part of the Veterans’ Treatment Court “until we receive grants to fund the program,” the judge said.
An inaugural group of 10 veterans will be selected for the court program Wednesday during a site visit by officials from Veterans Affairs. That begins at 9 a.m. in Cantrell’s courtroom.
The program is designed for those veterans facing criminal charges who have the potential to succeed, Cantrell said. That requires commitment by those selected to participate in the two-year process.
“We will accept those with misdemeanor charges up to nonviolent Class B felony charges, but no crimes against children are allowed in the program,” she said.
“There are rewards and sanctions as part of the program,” said Cantrell, for whom this program is a personal mission, because family members served in Operation Desert Storm. “It will take personal motivation. We will provide the structure and the tools.”
Those who successfully complete the 24-month program will have an opportunity to have criminal charges dismissed, Cantrell said. Those who don’t succeed will go back into the criminal courts.