Rich James’ March 25 column, “Show Some Compassion for Lake County’s Troubled Veterans,” caught my attention. Many comments on the column were critical of the idea, suggesting that it would be a waste of money because Lake County courts, as they exist, would be sufficient to handle any particular problems of veterans in trouble.
The criticism assumes James is suggesting a new court with a new judge and staff be established. Neither James nor those in support of establishing a veterans court in Lake County are suggesting that is the way it should be done.
On the contrary, existing judges could set aside a portion of their time for veterans. Two of our judges (Judges, Julie Cantrell and Sheila Moss) have already volunteered to take on that task.
James points out there is a successfully functioning veterans court in Porter County for almost two years now. As someone who visited that court, talked to the judge, was allowed to sit in on a pre-court meeting, and observed several veterans processed that day through the court, I can conclude that it is very successful.
The court is run by Judge Julia Jent, who sets aside one day a week for her veterans court. Veterans charged with crimes can qualify for the court if they meet certain requirements: acceptance by the veterans court judge, and their agreement to certain restrictions and guidelines. These rules must absolutely be met, or they are booted from the program.
Upon proceeding through three stages over about 18 months, veterans can graduate from the program and be subject to getting their charges dismissed.
What is done in these courts is not inconsistent with community safety. That is always something the judges and staff look at in allowing veterans to enter and proceed through the program.
Is the program in Porter County working? You bet.
Consider comments by one veteran who has graduated and another who was about to graduate. One was a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran who had been charged with driving under the influence 18 months prior. He is a college professor.
Veterans court “gave me my life back," he said. "It reconnected me with relationships, with my life.” He graduated last year and is now a volunteer mentor for other veterans who qualify for the court process.
Another veteran, who was about to graduate, said he found a community of people who understood what he was going through, because they had been there themselves. He was supported and encouraged to embrace treatment.
Judge Jent, who also is a veteran, said her court’s mission is to help troubled veterans and get involved. Americans are indebted to those veterans who died, as well as those who returned. We owe it to them to help them.
As Rich James said, the citizens of Lake County would be well served by establishing a veterans court, and finding the funding through the state or county. In some small way, this would repay those who served and sacrificed for all of us.
We should do what we can to help them put their lives back together.