JoCo on the Go Podcast: Catching up with the Veterans Treatment Court

On JoCo on the Go, episode #138, we’re catching up with Johnson County’s Veterans Treatment Court: an innovative option for veterans who come in contact with the criminal justice system. Instead of further incarceration, they accept a wide range of supports to help them overcome trauma and pave a path to a successful future. Adam Baker, the program coordinator, tells us about the collaboration among Johnson County departments and the local VA to help veterans graduate the program. Also hear from recent graduates about how the VTC has changed their lives.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Veterans Treatment Court

Look for JoCo on the Go where you regularly listen to podcasts.


Time Subject
00:27 Introduction
01:05 What is Veterans Treatment Court?
03:13 The hard work of the VTC program
11:32 How many people have been through the program
16:53 How the VTC cooperates with other county departments
19:21 Success stories from the VTC
21:09 How to support the VTC


Theresa Freed 00:00

Johnson County's veteran's treatment court continues to celebrate success stories members of the military who hit a rough spot in their lives that are now seeing hope for their futures. On this episode, hear from some of the most recent graduates,

Announcer 00:13

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 00:27

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. A couple of years ago, I think now we introduced our listeners to Johnson County's veteran's treatment court, an awesome program that gives justice involved veterans an opportunity to receive some tremendous support, avoid jail time and pave a path to some positive outcomes that benefit the veterans, their families, and really our whole community here to provide an update on this great program we have with us, Adam Baker, thank you for joining us.

Adam Baker 00:57

Thank you, Theresa.

Theresa Freed 00:59

All right, well, first off, tell us a little bit about your role with the program, and then also just what exactly the program is.

Adam Baker 01:05

Yeah, so I'm the court coordinator here in Johnson County veteran's treatment court. And so my role in that is one that just connects all the pieces. There's tons of partners and stakeholders that that make up veteran's treatment court. And that includes two judges, to Assistant District Attorneys, to public defenders, our court services team, and then and then we have treatment team, which comprises of the VA and Johns County Mental Health. Our mentors are John's County Sheriff's Office as well. But so are our court, we take justice, small bets that were incarcerated or have cases in Johnson County. And we it's a voluntary program for our veterans to be able to engage in treatment in lieu of incarceration, lengthy incarcerations, or, or maybe standard probations, that aren't addressing root causes for the criminal charges. Most of our vets come through what's called a diversion agreement through the DHS office. And what that does is, is if they successfully complete our program, they can have their charges dismissed. It's a huge benefit for our veteran population. And it allows for accountability in the community, as well as knowing that our vets will complete our program through intensive treatment. And most of that is through the VA, which is free for our, for our local or local community.

Theresa Freed 03:03

And this is not an easy program, like this is not something you just sign up for check a box and then you're you're done. So can you talk about what what are some of those elements? What's the hard work they're doing?

Adam Baker 03:13

Yeah, so our program consists of either 18 or 12 months, supervision most for 18 months, and how we determine that is one based on charges. But two, it's really based on their risks and needs. And we look at that as their their risk for re offense. You know, that's one of the biggest metrics in the criminal justice system is is do we think, do we think this person may, reengage in the criminal justice system, we don't want to create a revolving door. So we look at risks need, and their needs are really based on their mental health and substance use disorder needs. So we, we do lengthy assessments. In the volunteer program, all of our vets choose to be in our program. And so, the lengthy process of referral allows our treatment teams to conduct those assessments. It allows our court services to conduct assessments based on based on on their criteria. And then we staff that with our our criminal justice team, our Veterans Treatment Court team. The process once you get into veteran's treatment court, what our veterans are looking at is they're looking at weekly contact with their Court Services Officer. They're what many call probation officer. Week weekly engagement and treatment. Some of our beds are going to various treatments, inpatient outpatient treatment, multiple times a week inpatient treatments can be up to, you know, some, some are up 90 days. So it's very intense. We also practice more more importantly on the treatment court model is abstinence of all of all drugs and alcohol while they're in the program, because the sobriety allows them to get to get engaged in treatment. And so and so they're weekly going to taking drug tests. And then while they're in our program, the basically the first first three to four months, they're going to court. They're, they're standing in front of judge every two weeks. And so and then as they progress through our programs, some of those some of those systems start to gradually release as we start to look at what pro social activities look like what what is a pathway to continued sobriety continued treatment look like once they leave our program. But it's really intense in the in the in the first few months. And then it just starts to start to gradually taper taper back. And then one of the more interesting things in a in a treatment court model with veteran's Treatment Court is our engagement with veteran mentors. So they have a veteran mentor assigned to them, who are veterans themselves. And they are volunteers of our court, but they're completely independent. So while they're engaged in all of this treatment, all this supervision they're also having a mentor walk with them from from the time that they enter our court to the time of graduation. It's a really cool process, it it, it allows them to see other people doing the work other people engaged in. And in Acts of, of selflessness, service to the community. Veteran mentors often engage our vets through bowling or, or going to their kids, sporting events. It's a really cool relationship that's built. When you see a graduation, you see that it's it's the the work that our vets put in day in and day out, it really it really pays off, and it allows them to be successful, much more than if they then if they were to just take an incarceration or they were just to just to downplay some of their some of their root causes. That trauma that that's involved in the military. And if they don't address that, then we don't want them to wind up in this in their back in our jails with still still not being able to deal with some of those issues.

Theresa Freed 08:04

And so we had a graduation ceremony pretty recently. So can you talk about some of those success stories, and then also just overall for the program? Like what have we seen in Johnson County in terms of success with this?

Adam Baker 08:16

Just last week, we had a Veteran's Treatment Court graduation, we had four of our recent graduates. One was actually a holdout that graduated last year, but due to COVID restraints, wasn't able to attend and he said, I just want to attend in person, you know, he, he was he was saying that the ability for him to come back and, and thank the team and and be able to celebrate his accomplishments was really cool. Other than that, the graduation that we had, was really meat because we had it was one of the first times I think that we've had all four branches of active duty recognized in one graduation. And so it's oftentimes it, it's, it's kind of an interesting thing, because our dynamic, we see a lot of our vets that are coming through, through with with trauma that especially from past wars, you know, we see a huge population is primarily army. And so and so, oftentimes, we we think that the that the only vets that we're going to see in our program have to be combat related. But we know by research that, that vets, you know, come into the military with with trauma, they leave the military with trauma regardless of combat status. And, and so I think we do it really well here in Johnson County by, by not casting the net so small that we're only capturing one specific instance of, of military trauma. Our our female veteran was our only combat veteran. In the in the graduation, we've we've graduated our third female veteran, which I think last time we spoke about this a few years ago, we were, we were, we might have been just bringing in our first female veteran, which created its own challenges, trying to identify resources and and trying to make sure that that our court was doing everything we could to be inclusive to that population, knowing that there's unique challenges for females joining the military, and then coming back and transitioning. And so we have a very good female veteran mentor who who took on all of our female veteran participants, which is really, which is, again, a huge testament to the veterans that are just in the Johnson County Community that said, yes, we want to stand up and we want to see this program succeed. And we want to see our veteran brothers and sisters succeed.

Theresa Freed 11:27

Do you have data in terms of how many people overall have have participated in the program?

Adam Baker 11:32

So we've we've had, so we are, we graduated our 53rd. Participant, we've had over 80. In our program, I think we're at 81, that have gone through the program, we have, we have 19 active participants in the court, which is pretty on par. Another really good thing that we did, we were able to pivot really quickly with COVID. And be able to keep the court running. In fact, the when COVID first was identified for that shutdown in March of 2020. It was our judge decided, hey, we need to we need to be able to continue this, whatever it takes. So he was on a on his conference, phone, in the office calling on each one of our participants with our Court Services Officer. Which was really it's really good, as far as a leadership standpoint, to know that everybody during that COVID pandemic, their struggles, and so knowing while somebody's going through, you know, felony misdemeanor supervision in this in this very intense treatment court, to be able to say, we're going to we're going to try every operational tactic we can to keep this this going and make sure people are served very early on. We started in 2016. We didn't really know how are we going to identify all these veterans in Veterans Treatment Court. And so we allow, we utilize JIMS to get some, some some data. And then the Johnson County Sheriff's Office was a huge advocate in being able to create early identify identification measures. So now any veteran that that's booked into the Johnson County Jail is asked if they ever served in the armed forces, which allows us to all have a good picture of of vets coming into the program. So we've we've, we've identified at booking since we started doing that, just that that very basic screening, we've identified over 1000 veterans that are coming through that have been have been have been booked into our jail. And so, so say, Okay, well, we've had, you know, 80 participants, well, what are what are we doing to help those other veterans? And so, we partner with the VA and our Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator that that operates in our veteran's treatment court. She also does jail outreach. And another program that we believe might have been first in the nation was a we utilize that the commissary that is already embedded into the jail to identify people that are asking for treatment me that had treatment needs that that that might not have an avenue to to get to get help while in cars. raided, awaiting trial. Maybe they had bonds, they couldn't couldn't reduce. And so our jail outreach team with the VA partnered with Johns County Mental Health or Johnson County Sheriff's Office, to be able to communicate directly with incarcerated veterans on the kiosk. And that's that's led to over 185 veterans who were incarcerated, to be able to get serviced through inpatient outpatient treatment to inquire about veteran's treatment court. So it's really it's it's, you know, it's kind of all hands on deck better shoe McCourt probably isn't the best route for everybody. We we advocate it as you know, as an option that is very successful. But it is intense. It's intense for our vets that are currently working currently have, you know, families that that take up a lot of time. So it can be it can be taxing, but we want to make sure that veterans are McCourt, the team is also servicing. Any justice involved that that comes through our program?

Theresa Freed 16:21

I always think is really interesting. When whenever I talk to any program, pretty much within Johnson County is the level of collaboration between the department's like, we may be siloed in some ways, but but when it comes down to serving members of the community who who need our help, how are we going to all come together and make it work for this person instead of you know, what's best for my department or you know, whatnot. So it's really impressive to see that and it seems like it's grown

Adam Baker 16:53

Many Veterans Treatment Courts can only service veterans that that have VA benefits. And Johnson County Mental Health said no, we want any justice-involved veterans, to be served. So we every single time we have a seated staffing, representative for Johnson County Mental Health is there, they have a court liaison now. That that is that is an amazing position, not not just for better streaming corporate, but for everybody. The sheriff's department who originally probably just thought as this, you know, yes, we're going to we're going to assist where we need to, you know, that's evolved into they they take out our court services officers for home visits for our veterans, they do all of our jail outreach. They they help, they assist with our communications through the GLA TM. They're at every single one of our staffing. They're there. They're a key member of our steering committee. The district attorney's office has has had transitions, through through their through their office, that but but even through any of that they've always devoted two assistant district attorneys to our team. Now both of those ad A's are both veterans themselves, which is a, which is a huge benefit to, you know, building that that rapport, understanding the cultural competency of the veteran community. Really, it's a really neat partnership. Court Services has always been a huge supporter of, of giving a main point of contact for all of our supervision. And currently that that Court Services Officer is a veteran herself. It's a it's, again, I mean from from the Kansas City VA, Johns County Mental Health, the public defender's office, Assistant District Attorneys, the court system is a really neat collaborative approach.

Theresa Freed 19:23

Yeah, we're certainly happy to help promote it. I mean, you don't get more positive than then these stories, I think. And we're going to take a listen to some of those now at that recent graduation we talked about

Speaker #1 19:35

Every time I saw Patrick, I just thought of a hard working guy, worked many, many hours at his job, worked a second job, did the same thing in the program and did an outstanding job and we really appreciate to your efforts and congratulations on your graduation today.

Speaker #2 19:53

Wasn't easy. But you got to put effort into my career, my books the way I act, the way treat people. It's changed everything.

Speaker #1 20:04

He kept this program a priority, and did an outstanding job. And congratulations, Michael.

Speaker #3 20:12

It's not really that, celebrating the act of what landed us here. But the celebration of an actor, we're not a statistic, basically, we're not, not left behind.

Speaker #1 20:24

And I'm gonna present you with the certificate and the challenge coin of our court.

Speaker #2 20:32

It's been a night and day difference. I mean, I had to change everything. In order to get to where I'm at today.

Speaker #1 20:38

She's one of those veterans, like all of them, but really, that is helping other veterans, I'm going to continue to help other veterans and we really appreciate her. And congratulations, Jennifer,

Speaker #4 20:49

I get to start my journey over this chapter is closed. But there's a new new chapter is about to begin, I learned how to love myself, I learn how to stop behind and behind that shield, I learned to live, I held myself to a different standard. failure was not an option for me.

Theresa Freed 21:09

So these celebrations that happen fairly frequently. But each one is very special when you get to hear from the speakers at the events, who are invited to share their stories, and then also the participants who, you know, sometimes they have a lot to say, and sometimes they don't have a lot to say, but I think the sentiment is there among all of them that they have been forever changed by the program, which is really awesome. All right. Well, I'm just so last question. I think, you know, people might be wondering kind of, is there a way to support this program? Is there something that that you look for from the community in a way that they can can be helpful? And so is there anything that you can offer them here locally?

Adam Baker 21:53

You know, one of our one of our main drivers is mentorship. So if you or you know, somebody that is a veteran, that's, that's looking to give back to a community. I would I would direct them to, to inquire about becoming a veteran mentor, you can reach out to me reach out to the program in general. But it's, it's it. It's one of those things that even myself as a veteran, prior to come into this role I didn't know existed, I didn't know that this was an issue within our veteran community that that, that that really existed, and that there was a there was a way to help it. So that's a that's a really good thing. Another thing that we that runs independent of our of our court is a veteran's treatment court foundation. That's, that's run locally. And what that does, is it it's it's a monetary fund, that addresses barriers to treatments, I'm just thinking of so many opportunities where veterans, you know, say I can't, I can't take I can't do anything to help myself, because this is an issue. And that in our our partners with the VA, Johns County Mental Health, work at finding community partners, stakeholders that can address those issues. And if and if we can't address those issues in house, then that's when it that's when we there's a request made to the Veterans Treatment Court Foundation. And that's, that's a that's another way to get involved. And then I think, you know, just just the understanding and the awareness, that that this is an issue. And if and if in Johnson County, you know, in the in the six years that we've we've gone through we've identified over 1000 justice involved veterans, that knowing that this is this is a widespread thing. So you know, we've been in talks. In fact, just last year Wyandotte County, started their very first veteran's treatment court. Johnson County, Kansas was the only veteran's treatment court the only option for veterans incarcerated until last year, so that's the momentum is starting to pick up. The Kansas Supreme Court is a huge proponent right now. There's a lot of momentum, legislate legislation, momentum around treatment courts in general. So we have been in talks with Leavenworth, Douglas Shawnee state Edward counties to, to start to brainstorm how do we how do we take this model and replicate throughout Kansas so that I mean, I can't tell you how many times I get phone calls or emails from a parent or a family member who says, Oh, my, my son, my daughter has charges here, how do I get them to you, and knowing that we don't have an avenue right now to service veterans, even even sometimes there'll be veterans that live here in Johnson County, but may have picked up charges somewhere else. Just knowing that, you know, any way we can support other jurisdictions, other people that that that might have the right connections, to just start a conversation about how do we holistically approach this, with Johnson County taking the lead with starting veteran's treatment court? How do we create that momentum, so that any veteran that finds themselves in in a justice involvement scenario, can have access to some of these resources, some of these resources, especially when we talk about the, the treatment that can be done through the VA, not just at a VA but but but now we know through COVID the telehealth world is, is is sustainable. It's something that we can we can model very easily. And if we can just if we can get, you know, if we can help really, if we can help one veteran get to the root causes of of what their involvement in the criminal justice system was, and to know that they're not coming back into the criminal justice system. I think it's I think it's a worthy cause.

Theresa Freed 27:08

Thank you again for catching up with us and telling us about the ongoing success of the program and we look forward to talking to you again to continue that conversation. Thank you. Right and thanks for listening.

Announcer 27:22

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit Thanks for listening.

District Attorney
District Courts