On January 13, Johnson County District Court held the first Veterans Treatment Court in Kansas. The mission of the VTC is to identify veterans in the criminal justice system and, when eligible, get them into treatment and court supervision as an alternative to incarceration.
VTC offers two alternatives to jail time: a diversion track through the Johnson County District Attorney’s office and a probation track offered through Johnson County District Court Services. These programs allow eligible veterans to voluntarily participate in a 12-18 month program of frequent court appearances, drug and alcohol testing two times per week minimum, treatment, recovery support meetings, and a mentor program with another veteran.
“This is an opportunity to help veterans who may be suffering from traumatic brain injuries, depression, substance abuse, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of serving our country,” says Timothy P. McCarthy, District Court Judge, who spearheaded the effort to bring VTC to Johnson County.
As part of the Johnson County jail booking process, everyone arrested in Johnson County is now asked if they have served in the military. Veterans who are eligible and willing can apply to VTC. To be eligible, veterans must be Johnson County residents and eligible for either VA benefits or Johnson County Mental Health Center services. Veterans charged with lower level felony or misdemeanor offenses such as DUIs, drug-related charges or domestic violence charges will be considered for the program.
Judge McCarthy will preside over the Veterans Treatment Court docket every other Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. beginning Jan. 13. This first event included a flag ceremony, as well as remarks from Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, District Attorney Stephen Howe, representatives from the Veterans Administration and the VTC team.
In addition to Judge McCarthy, the VTC team is made up of an additional judge, two prosecutors, two public defenders, a VA representative, a probation officer, two program coordinators, six volunteer veteran mentors and a research student. Out of the 15 team members, five are veterans and almost all of the rest are the son or daughter of a veteran. The program utilizes people who already work in Johnson County’s criminal justice system. The team meets every two weeks for one hour of discussing current cases and one hour of court hearings. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson County Mental Health Center and the county’s Justice Information Management System are also part of the VTC team.
In 2008, Judge Robert Russell started a docket just for veterans in Buffalo, NY after he noticed an increase in the number of veterans appearing on his Drug Court and Mental Health Court dockets. Today, there are 250 VTC programs in 40 states including Missouri. In the metro area, there are VTC programs in Jackson County, Clay County and KCMO. More information is available here. http://www.justiceforvets.org/what-is-a-veterans-treatment-court