Veterans Court pilot program to start on Fort Hood
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FORT HOOD, Texas (Dec. 22, 2015) -- A Veterans Treatment Court, the first of its kind located on a major military installation, was established here by Judge Jeffrey Manske under an agreement between the U.S. Attorney and Chief of Pretrial Services for the Western District of Texas, along with representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dec. 11.

The Veterans Treatment Court on Fort Hood, also known as Veterans Endeavor for Treatment Support, or VETS Court, will work to divert veterans with service-connected mental health or substance abuse disorders out of the court system and into enduring treatment solutions, according to a press release.

The VETS Court, initiated as a pilot program, will offer community supervision and treatment provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs as an alternative to federal convictions for qualified veterans charged with committing misdemeanors while on Fort Hood.

In addition to formalized treatment and supervision, the VETS Court will also connect veterans in the court with other veterans who serve as mentors and represent the support of the veteran community.

The program was inspired by examples of Veterans Treatment Courts in state jurisdictions around the country and Texas, said Richard Durbin, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas.

"This is a unique program, and so far as we know, it is the only one of its kind for offenses committed by veterans on military bases," Durbin said.

Scheduled to begin hearings in January 2016, this initiative will be overseen by U.S. District Court Judge Walter Smith Jr. and run by Manske with the support of U.S. Pretrial Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs. A III Corps judge advocate detailed as a special assistant U.S. attorney led the planning and establishment of the court and will continue to support its operations as a federal prosecutor.

After being charged with an offense, participants in the program will be under intensive supervision for approximately 12-18 months, Durbin said. While under supervision, participants must actively engage in various types of treatment depending on their circumstances. Treatment could include substance abuse, mental health, disability, financial and other appropriate counseling.

"What a great way to honor our service members who have served in the last 10-15 years and being able to offer them something to help them through a process in transition from where they're currently," said Col. John Reynolds III, the Task Force Phantom, III Corps chief of staff. "As a veteran myself, I know what this means not only to the Soldiers, but the commanders and more importantly the Family members."

"Selfless service, it goes across the gambit from the Soldiers to the attorneys and to the community to make this work, and give something back to our veterans that served," Reynolds said. "I think it's a phenomenal start, and something we will hopefully expand upon."

After filling out an application, potential candidates for the program will be reviewed by the prosecution, the defense, the court and the pre-trial services office in consultation with the other agencies to ultimately decide if the candidate is the kind of person who can benefit from the services and who would do well in the program, Durbin said.

However, the program is voluntary. A variety of misdemeanor crimes will fall into the program such as driving while intoxicated, various types of assaults, property crimes and theft crimes.

Fort Hood was chosen because of the large veteran population surround the base.

"There is a large veteran population here, and there are a number of veterans, not a large number, but a number who come onto the base for various reasons and sometimes end up in trouble," Durbin said. "It seemed like a particularly good population for us to focus this kind of effort on where we thought we could actually make a difference to some people who really deserve this kind of attention."

Individuals seeking to get involved in supporting veterans in the VETS Court are encouraged to contact Magistrate Court on Fort Hood or the Texas Veterans Commission Military Veteran Peer Network.

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