Advocates and stakeholders are seeking extra resources to help rehabilitate veterans who have wound up in the criminal justice system.
“We noticed 18 months ago that a significant portion of our referrals were veterans, and in the last year, probably seven out of 55 participants are veterans,” said Judge Kathlene Gosselin, who heads the Mental Health Court in Hall County Superior Court.
A steering committee met last week, and the courts, with the approval of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, have applied for a state grant from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.
“We want to be able to address their specific concerns,” Gosselin said.
Treatment Services Agency Director Debbie Mott wrote the grant application.
“Our judges are seeing an influx of combat vets who are returning from deployment struggling with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and are ending up in the criminal justice system,” Mott wrote. “This niche of the criminal justice population requires specialized support and is eligible for services that are often difficult for them to navigate alone.”
Many veterans struggle with homelessness and employment issues, in addition to their mental health issues, Mott wrote in the grant.
“With enhancement funding, we wish to hire a full-time case manager to serve these folks and to help manage the overflow caseload of the ever-expanding mental health court program,” the grant read.
Gosselin said a full-time case manager, and system of mentors, could help address veterans’ needs.
“They need other things than we can provide,” she said. “They need help navigating the VA system; veterans courts traditionally have a special program of mentors — people that have been in the military service can come in and be a mentor. It’s sort of like a friend, someone they can identify with.”
The veterans’ court would be held as a separate docket, immediately after mental health court, Gosselin said.
Gosselin said most of the veterans in mental health court have been from more recent deployments.
“I think one is Vietnam, and the others are all post 9/11 — Iraq and Afghanistan; men and women,” she said.
Statistics are stark on the incidence of injuries that affect a veteran’s mental health, Gosselin said.
“If you look at some of the statistics, it’s frightening — the levels of PTSD and traumatic brain injury,” she said.
In the grant application, Mott said two veterans are on the waiting list for mental health court, which is already operating beyond its intended maximum.