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Veterans Court: A pathway to justice

Rockwall County Herald-Banner - 8/12/2017

One by one, veterans approached Judge John R. Roach at the Rockwall County Courthouse. Some gave updates on their life. Others were inducted. One even graduated. But all left the bench to a round of applause at North Texas Regional Veterans Court.

The North Texas Regional Veterans Court is a program that seeks justice for veterans who are currently facing prosecution for one or more criminal cases. The program offers treatment options that are judicially supervised; it is designed to divert veterans out of the traditional criminal justice process and into appropriate rehabilitative alternatives with a high degree of accountability.

According to the program's mission statement, its purpose is to promote public safety by assisting and supporting veterans with court supervised treatment, community bases services and accountability through a system of incentives and sanctions.

The program was launched last fall and covers Rockwall, Collin, Kaufman, Grayson and Fannin counties.

Rockwall District Attorney Kenda Culpepper, mentor coordinator Joseph Patrick Lynch, Sr. and Roach all had a hand in creating the program.

Culpepper said they started the program because they wanted to help veterans deal with their issues.

"I appreciate the fact that Joe Lynch came to me very early in my elected career and said 'Kenda this is an important program. We're doing it in Dallas, we want to try it in Rockwall,'" she said. "So Judge Roach and I got together and we figured out how to do it on a regional basis. This is a national innovative program that we have created."

In order to be eligible for the program, participants must meet the following criteria:

The offender is a veteran or current member of the United States armed forces, including a member of the reserves, national guard, or state guard

The offender suffers from a brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, that resulted from the offender's military service in a combat zone or other similar hazardous duty area, and

materially affected the offender's criminal conduct at issue in the case.

Veterans are referred to the North Texas Regional Veterans Court by a variety of sources, including law enforcement, jail staff, judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, mental heath professionals and family or friends.

Once a referral is received, the program coordinator conducts an initial interview with the candidate and he or she submits an application.

The District Attorney's Office reviews the application and either denies consent or agrees provisionally pending the results of a mental health evaluation.

The program is divided into three phases and the expected duration is between six and 24 months. Each phase has a particular focus. Treatment and program compliance are required for advancement to the next phase.

Upon completion, the participant "graduates" with the case expunged from his or her record. The participant also receives a refurbished American flag. Roach said he likes to analogize the flag with Veterans Court.

"We all come up with stitches, a little broken and a little faded," he said. "What we try to do at veterans court and our mission is to help you get stitched back together like all of us need. To clean you off a little bit and help you understand that you're just as important like this as you were when you first began.

"The reason we have this flag is because you fought for this flag, you continue to do that and we still are worth everything we had when we started."

 
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