The Armstrong County Veterans Treatment Court is a specialized treatment court designed to provide an alternative program for Armstrong County’s veterans facing criminal charges, many of whom are dealing with mental health and addiction issues. The goal of Veterans Treatment Court is to rehabilitate and restore veterans as active, contributing members of their community all the while addressing the criminal action.
The Court will be participating with the Armstrong County District Attorney, the Office of the Public Defender, the Probation Department, and other community organizations in order to identify qualified veterans. Veterans who participate will come before judges on a regular basis, receive support and guidance from veteran mentors, be supervised by a specialized probation officer and receive treatment and support from the Veterans Administration to address underlying problems often caused by post-traumatic stress disorders.
Veterans Courts first began in Pennsylvania in 2009 and since then thousands of Pennsylvania veterans have graduated various programs throughout the state. Armstrong County is the 21st county in Pennsylvania to open a Veterans Court, and the first court in Pennsylvania to be privately funded.
Thanks to a generous donation from the Margaret Patton Foundation, the Armstrong County Veterans Treatment Court has been launched. We need your help to continue the work to be done. Donations can be made through the ACMH Foundation, Veterans Treatment Court Fund. ACMH Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and will provide a contemporaneous, written acknowledgment of any contribution.
ACMH Hospital was part of a coalition to develop a Veterans Treatment Court, led by Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas. The program is designed as an alternative to incarceration for veterans who meet clinical criteria (PTSD, traumatic brain injury, drug/alcohol addiction and mental health disorders.) Post plea/pre-sentencing veterans participate in an intensive two-year process that includes drug testing, medical and mental health care, attendance in 12-step or faith-based programs for those with substance abuse problems and regularly scheduled treatment court meetings. The treatment court team makes available all the necessary resources to help veterans reenter as productive members of the community.
The treatment court team includes a specially trained probation officer-one who understands the special needs of veterans. Our VA Court Coordinator/Probation Officer is Mark "Brian" Zebracki. Brian is a former Army Airborne Paratrooper, part of the 313th Military Intelligence Battalion with deployment in South Korea and Iraq. He has a master's degree in business and organizational security management and is currently working on a master's degree in criminology. Brian is currently recruiting volunteer veteran mentors who will play important roles in the program and will be specially trained to help program participants. Program components include medical care, childcare, transportation, assistance with finding jobs and housing, and rewards for positive behavior.
Avoiding incarceration and a reduction in recidivism is a real cost savings to taxpayers over time. The Armstrong County program is being supported by many local private organizations and individuals. One of the first of this kind of model, we believe that this private/public collaboration will assure success. The program Is off and running.
Consider supporting this worthwhile cause.
Public support of this project is greatly appreciated and we welcome donations which can be made through the ACMH Foundation, Veterans Treatment Court Fund. ACMH Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and will provide a contemporaneous, written acknowledgment of any contribution.
Most veterans are strengthened by their military service, but the combat experience has unfortunately left a growing number of veterans with issues such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance use issue. Research continues to draw a link between substance use and combat-related mental illness. Left untreated, mental health disorders common among veterans can directly lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.
The veterans treatment court model requires regular court appearances, as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, and frequent and random testing for drug and alcohol use. Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment, given their past experiences in the Armed Forces. However, a few will struggle, and it is exactly those veterans who need a veterans treatment court program the most. Without this structure, these veterans will reoffend and remain in the criminal justice system. The veterans treatment court is able to ensure they meet their obligations to themselves, the court, and their community.
Veterans treatment courts allow jurisdictions to serve a large segment of the justice-involved veteran population as opposed to business as usual: having all veterans appear before random judges who may or may not have an understanding of their unique experiences and issues. Because a veterans treatment court judge handles numerous veterans' cases and is supported by a strong, interdisciplinary team, he or she is in a much better position to exercise discretion and effectively respond than a judge who only occasionally hears a case involving a veteran defendant. A veterans treatment court judge better understands the issues that a veteran may be struggling with, such as substance addiction, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma. A veterans treatment court judge is also more familiar with the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Administration, State Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans service organizations, and volunteer veteran mentors and how they can all assist veteran defendants.
Veterans treatment courts are tapping into the unique aspects of military and veteran culture and using them to the benefit of the veteran. Through these specialty courts, those who served in our nation’s Armed Forces are allowed to participate in the treatment court process with their fellow veterans, re-instilling the sense of camaraderie they felt while in the military. For those who have spent any time in traditional criminal courts, a visit to a veterans treatment court can be a revelation. Veteran defendants stand before the judge at parade rest, saying "Yes, ma'am/sir" or "No, ma'am/sir," and there is interaction with and support from their fellow veterans.
In addition, veterans treatment courts act as a "one-stop shop," linking veterans with the programs, benefits, and services they have earned. For example, the Veterans Health Administration's Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist is present during the court docket with a laptop computer able to access confidential medical records, make treatment appointments, and communicate this information to the court. The Veterans Benefit Administration may provide a representative to ensure that veterans receive disability compensation, and education and training benefits. Veterans service organizations and State Departments of Veterans Affairs assist veterans with additional local and state resources, while volunteer veteran mentors provide moral and motivational support. These team members are not employed by the criminal justice system and normally would not be present at the courthouse. Consolidating justice-involved veterans into a single docket permits these individuals to actively support those in need of their help.