Announcer [00:00:01] 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 [00:00:14] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Teresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Today we're talking about a fairly new program in Johnson County that's designed to help veterans receive the support they need to overcome some obstacles and barriers in life so they can be successful personally and professionally. The program is known as the Veterans Treatment Court. It's an innovative alternative approach for veterans from incarceration into supervised treatment and supportive services. To tell us more about that is Adam Baker who is the Veterans Treatment Court Coordinator. Welcome, Adam.
Adam Baker [00:00:50] Thank you so much, Theresa.
Theresa Freed [00:00:52] All right well just to start off with what exactly is this program and then how did it get started here?
Adam Baker [00:00:58] So here in Kansas we're the first and only currently but we've been here for since 2016. The whole idea is to offer justice-involved persons, in our case, justice-involved veterans an opportunity instead of standard probation or incarceration to actually start identifying some root causes to criminal activity, criminal behavior, whatever they're charged may stem from. Specifically for veterans, the whole idea is there's trauma involved with just the service to our country that can be anything from deployments. So it could be related to combat. It doesn't have to be. Oftentimes just the just the simple fact of being plucked out of society into service can cause some of those stressors: abandonment. Cause things like anger issues. There's a high prevalence of maladaptive coping strategies so that's why alcohol abuse, drug abuse prescription drug abuse, stuff like that. So what we do is we're a completely voluntary program. So once a veteran is identified in the system we try to hit them as early as possible. The really good thing about Johnson County is that we've partnered with the Johnson County Sheriff's Department so, at arrest, veterans can identify as as serving in the armed services. They're immediately assigned to a specific judge courtroom so Judge McCarthy is our Veterans Treatment Court judge. So all those cases go funneled straight through him and then veterans have the opportunity to talk through their case and they can apply either on diversion so pre-adjudication or post-adjudication at sentencing for our program. So the unique side of that is they're able to to engage in mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, all while matriculating through the justice system. And part of that is being assigned a mentor. The criminal justice system is just such a huge broad animal that that can be really cold and really rigid and the whole purpose of treatment courts is to kind of break down some of those barriers so that we can tackle those recidivism issues and relapse issues and root cause so that once they leave our justice system we hope that's the last time they encounter the justice system.
Theresa Freed [00:03:28] And that brings up a good point. What are you seeing in terms of kind of sustained success after the program ends?
Adam Baker [00:03:34] So we started in 2016 our program - we split it: so based on severity of charges, based on different types of risks and needs, our veterans can go through the program either on an 18-month track or a 12-month track. And in that. So if we start in 2016, we're just now starting to see those veterans that started that program now coming out in that. So currently the way we the way we record recidivism is re-arrests in Johnson County. And as far as our veterans who have successfully graduated we have we just graduated our our twenty sixth and twenty seventh. So far all of those graduates, there's no rearrests. I mean a huge success and a huge success.
Theresa Freed [00:04:21] That's terrific. And what kinds of support services are they receiving while they're in that program?
Adam Baker [00:04:26] Yeah. So I've been here since since December of last year and this program's just been rockstar since 2016. The support is is so vast. I mean from from you know exactly who the D.A. is assigned to that case. You know you know who's going to be representing the state. You know we have specific awesome public defenders as well that really complement that criminal justice side. They have one judge that they're seeing, which is a huge benefit in an in a criminal case. Another just astounding thing is our court services team. So you have supervision staff that are not only doing their regular duties but then there they're assigned to the to the Veterans Treatment Court. So they're meeting with their their veterans almost on a weekly basis they're doing home visits and those home visits aren't punitive. They're they're actually just checking and building rapport. How are the vets doing? How are they doing emotionally? What what's their family structure like? How can they best support them? So there's a lot of accountability piece just in the justice side but the majority of our vets qualify for for V.A. assistance. So so they're doing all of their mental health, their substance abuse treatment that brought them into the criminal justice system through the V.A.. But not only that. Is these vets can get plugged into different modalities. Couples counseling, financial counseling. We have vets that have experienced military sexual trauma. The V.A. does an amazing job with providing just all of that backdrop of total health and wellness for our vets. On the flip side, is so we have we cast such a wide net, we don't care what their discharge status were we don't care if they're combat-related. Oftentimes what we see is the veteran populations that are most at risk are some of those guys and gals that that didn't complete an entire service. You know, for whatever reason, medical medical discharge bad conduct whatever it is, those folks are extremely at risk to integrate back into society and pose a risk to themselves and not be able to adapt as well. So some of those vets that can't get services through the V.A. early on the team that sat down with the DA's office, with Ann Henderson and Josh Brunkhorst and Judge, Chief Judge Ryan and and Judge McCarthy and so many others, Michelle Durrett, they sat down and said Well how do we augment these vets? You know if they can't get services through the V.A., how are we going to say you can't get into this treatment court? Amazingly Tim DeWeese with Johnson County Mental Health stepped up. So they have specific services that parallel exactly what the V.A. is doing right here in Johnson County and offer those services in the exact same way. Free of charge for the veterans participating so that those veterans that may not be able to get that level of of care can get equal enough. And that's right here in Johson County which is is amazing. So that's the support for the criminal justice side, then the treatment side. And then lastly, community support. So there's two things on that. One is our veteran mentors when Justice for Vets-- Justice for Vets is this whole national organization that was birthed out of the treatment Court modality drug court modality specifically for veterans treatment court. And they've kind of set the guidelines on how do we reintegrate veterans, justice-involved vets that have have no other option to re-engage with society to feel like they can be a back at home and welcomed home? They said every vet needs a veteran mentor a stable presence that's been there done that that can walk them through the entire criminal justice system here in Johnson County were so blessed with we're almost one to one. So every veteran that goes through our program gets assigned one veteran mentor and that veteran mentor is usually just with that veteran that mentee. So that means that that's their one point of contact throughout treatment throughout court proceedings. So they're going that veteran mentor. Most of our guys are retired Vietnam vets, combat guys, high level. Have a lot of experience, a wealth of knowledge about community resources and so that that veteran mentor is sitting there with them. They come to every single court proceeding for that vet. They stand up next to them. I think you guys saw it at that graduation that even at the graduation from from the time that person enters our court to graduation there is somebody standing having their six behind them and just supporting them. The surprising part about that came from all this with the veteran mentor is that there's there's a bunch of guys that that have gone through our program that their mentor has gotten them employment. So not only are they providing for them emotionally, supporting them throughout this criminal justice system but now they're a point of contact with different vet organizations, different community support groups, employment opportunities, educational benefits. It's a really cool piece to that community support element. And then lastly, on that note, we have amazing community stakeholders that have said yes to helping our veteran community and saying we don't care what brought you into the criminal justice system, we want to make sure that you feel supported, feel welcome home and have every resources to feel like you can reintegrate back into society specifically Johnson County. While the veterans are going through the through the treatment, we incentivize everything. We celebrate sobriety. We celebrate engaging in treatment, showing just showing up. That's the main thing we want them to do. Never feel like you can't show up to court. And so we celebrate that and we celebrate that through. Sometimes it's gift cards. Sometimes it's some memorabilia. Sometimes it's some swag. A lot of our guys need toiletries. You know just different basic needs. So they have opportunities if they show up and they're doing what they need to do. They can be incentivized. So there's a lot of community support. We just started this year something we call veteran learning sessions so every time they come to court a normal court date you show up and you say we are court runs at 230. So most of our vets and I don't know where else in the criminal justice system would you see a defendant showing up an hour and a half early before court. But our vets do. Our vets are there on time so they submit UA, they meet with their mentors that time. And we said how can we maximize that time that they're there. And so we as a team set up what if we just bring in community partners, job opportunities educational providers, the V.A., mental health, different organizations to come speak about what their organization does how they can help, how vets can get involved. We're seeing a lot of increased engagement in those court proceedings that we're saying you're not just coming here for just the court aspect of it but you're actually coming here for a purpose and a reason that bringing that intent and we could not do that without so many community organizations stepping up and saying yep we want to be a part of it.
Theresa Freed [00:11:50] Right. And so that's a great way for people to get involved in this program but also the mentorship part of that. Are you guys always looking for volunteers?
Adam Baker [00:11:57] We are always looking for veteran mentors. That's one thing that our group is amazing but it does take time. It takes time out of your day. It takes time out of your week. We are always looking for strong, solid vets that want that want to step up and say, "Yeah I'm going to I served I know what it's like. I know the struggles. And I want to..." And I think it's in the heart of the veteran you know that's that servant leadership mentality that often when you get out of military service you're always looking for that new calling. And we are always looking for vets. Another thing is we brought in our first female veteran this year which is a huge population that we need to be able to attract. We need to be able to know that female veterans are safe in our court system. And so that's another thing. We're always looking for female veterans. And with that if we can get those veterans in there it's just going to open up the opportunities for us to be able to accept more veterans.
Theresa Freed [00:12:54] All right. Well just last question, how will it how I guess, exciting, emotional everything is that graduation ceremony for them at the end of all that?
Adam Baker [00:13:02] So when I came in in December and January was our first graduation. So brand new to the program I'm not really understanding what this is all about what's the impact? You know how much this vet and our team is putting into that, the work they're doing behind the scenes to make sure that these veterans can continue that success and you just never know. You never know what that end result is going to be. And so my first better Veterans Treatment Court graduation just blew me away. You have veterans that are that literally are telling community members. This is the first time that I felt excited. A few graduations ago one of our veterans said this is the first time that I actually knew I wanted to live. And that veteran was using drugs had survivor's guilt and all this stuff and didn't have the self-worth. And I think you can really see and hear and the veterans that are graduating the the ability to reclaim. They're reclaiming they're purpose they're reclaiming the the reason why they enlisted in the first place why they became commissioned in the first place was to serve this community in whatever capacity it is. And I think it's really evident when you hear the stories and you hear those graduation days how much these vets are just longing to take what they've learned and give back.
Theresa Freed [00:14:24] All right. Thank you so much for joining us. And now we're gonna take you to where recent Veterans Treatment Court graduation that Adam mentioned that was held on September 11.
Judge McCarthy [00:14:34] Dwayne came into the program over a year ago. He had served the United States Marine Corps and had not engaged with the V.A. when he got to our program. And when I think back about the time that you were with us in the program Dwayne you know I think that you were hesitant at the beginning. Hesitant to trust the folks at the Kansas City V.A. the folks that you were going to work with and probably hesitant to trust us in this program. This team that he was going to work with and everybody involved with it. But it was great to see you just like it is with all the veterans in our program to see over time how that trust built. And he engaged in treatment and things got better and things got better for him for his family for everything else that you'll see and you'll hear about here in a minute. But I knew back in the beginning even when he was hesitant I knew that he was going to make it. And I knew he was going to get to the end and he did really proud of him. And I want to present Dwayne Gipson with our challenge coin of our team. Congratulations to you and your graduation certificate I'll leave that up here for you and I will turn the podium over to you and then your mentor to make some remarks.
Dwayne Gipson [00:15:43] Thank you, Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the court, I'm very happy to say I'm a changed man. I can't speak for anyone else but I can say this from my heart. This is a program that helped me become a better American and also helped me realize how important family is. So to everyone working in the veterans treatment program, I will always remember you and I am as a United States Marine, a husband, a father, a son. I'm very thankful. So peace be with you all and continue to do it do it because we need you. Thank you.
Theresa Freed [00:16:28] Continuing our conversation about Johnson County's Veterans Treatment Court we have with us today Chris Carter, he's a veteran mentor coordinator and a program graduate. Thanks for being here today.
Chris Carter [00:16:39] You're very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Theresa Freed [00:16:40] All right. Well you are fairly new to the position but not to the program can you share with us a little bit about your story.
Chris Carter [00:16:47] Absolutely. So I was in the Marine Corps for 20 years 14 years on on active duty and I did a couple deployments to Iraq. And I left the Marine Corps in 2014 not a whole person anymore had gone through a I was going through a divorce. I, even though I didn't have a PTSD diagnosis at the time, I was I was fighting I was fighting that and I just really found myself turning to alcohol at that point to cope. I was drinking heavier than I had in the past and I got out of the Marine Corps. I thought you know maybe that would help and I moved back to Kansas City where I'm from. You know that divorce got finalized and that was that was just another very difficult thing for me to deal with. And you know in 2014 and 2015 I found myself holding a steady job during the day but you know self medicating with alcohol nearly every night that led to some destructive some destructive behavior and I ended up getting 3 DUIs in a year period which is a felony offense at that point. And and that's what brought me to Veterans Treatment Court. I was actually very very fortunate the Veterans Treatment Court was started in January of 2016 and my case was heard in August of 2015. But the court was gracious enough to hold off on my sentencing and allow me to apply to Veteran's Treatment Court that was going to be starting in about six months. So I was the first of I think there were three of us that started off in Veteran's Treatment Court from the onset. It's it was it was life changing for me and it was absolutely what I needed I needed to have my back against the wall and I thank God I really do every day that I didn't hurt anybody else or myself when I was in that destructive pattern but coming to Veterans Treatment Court provided me with an opportunity to I guess kind of take a pause in life and and have some forced sobriety through the court system and then get guided to to the right treatment. Some intensive outpatient treatment and some talk therapy and some alcohol abuse addiction treatment that really set me on the on the right on the right road to get back to healthy.
Theresa Freed [00:19:08] And for so many people just being forced into incarceration is the only option. And can you imagine what your life would be like if that was what's how that story ended?
Chris Carter [00:19:20] Yes absolutely I can. You know as as part of my sentence I did have to go out to the garden facility for about 14 days. After that I was on house arrest for 90 days and there is. Such a huge benefit to me I realize that it could've been sitting out there for two years or maybe more. And. It was a huge, huge benefit to have that time have that two years instead. Out out of out of jail. Out of incarceration, and rebuilding myself. I started my own business during that time. I started a new relationship with my now wife that time and I started putting in place healthy things to provide stability, you know, in my life and that all would have been delayed easily by a, by a couple of years if if I hadn't been been given the opportunity through the Veterans Treatment Court to have an alternative to just you know a longer term incarceration.
Theresa Freed [00:20:19] So what were some of the tools that you got through that?
Chris Carter [00:20:23] Through the Veteran's Treatment Court? Initially I will say it kind of and I don't mean to sound negative but forced engagement with the Veterans Administration and the programs they offer. As I think as so many people that are fighting in my case you know alcohol abuse addiction but whether it's drugs or or something else you know it's it's getting over that denial piece at the beginning and you don't want to go seek help. Maybe I'll speak for myself. I didn't want to. But but having that that firm but fair hand behind me of the Veterans Treatment Court pushing me to get engaged and you know pushing me to have to go get some treatment for my alcohol abuse and addiction was was critically important. It kind of once I got off and running with it and started feeling better and started making improvements in my life then I could kind of take the reins myself.
Theresa Freed [00:21:19] And so what message of hope do you have for other people who may have been in your situation?
Chris Carter [00:21:25] So it might sound a little cliche but it can get better. It really can. But when you're when you're in the middle of three or four DUIs and and all of the repercussions that come from that, and losing a driver's license for three years and and having a felony conviction and it almost seems like I can't get back. How am I going to get back? How am I going to get back to the life that I that I know I can live or the life that I that I was living? And so to be a mentor now and to talk to to you know to my mentees and say look give it time and put in the effort and it will get better. And. And to be able to actually show them. I mean look at my life, I was able to start a business, I was able to find and find a new relationship with my lovely wife now and and and rebuild and put all these positive healthy happy things in my life. I think that's a lot of the power behind the the mentors in the program is just showing. This is how life can be. And you can be happy again.
Theresa Freed [00:22:30] And kind of walk through what the process is once you have a mentor or a mentee meeting with you for the first time. What's the process from that first visit to, I guess, the end of the relationship or maybe it continues until now.
Chris Carter [00:22:45] And every mentor might be different. But you know for me it's it was you know with I've got to mentees right now with the one that's a little newer in the program. You know that initial meeting it's just it's building rapport and building a relationship of trust. You know so that they can. They feel that they can they can come to you if they are having problems or are having challenges that they can approach that with you. If they have a slip up which it happens and it's common and you know the Veterans Treatment Court is there to deal with that as well. And again be firm but fair and to help along when when these you know participants do have some slip ups but to develop a relationship of trust where they can they can confide in you and tell you their actual feelings and I think having been there myself I know that through the process of of healing and through the process of getting treatment through the process of going through Veterans Treatment Court and and it's tough it's difficult. There's a lot of requirements you know put upon the participants. It's important for them to be able to express the frustration that they're having maybe or the challenges that they're having. Let's just say with sobriety it's also important to be there so they can celebrate their successes with you too. So really just being a shoulder to lean on and an ear for them.
Theresa Freed [00:24:06] OK. And just finally how valuable is this resource to residents here in Johnson County?
Chris Carter [00:24:12] Oh it's. It is such an incredible program. I mean to. To rebuild lives and to and to put to put these participants back out into society. Happy and healthy and productive. It is very impactful on our society. You know we talk about recidivism rates you know within the criminal justice system of course. And that is a huge focus of Veterans Treatment Court is to is to make sure that those recidivism rates are are as low as they can be. And I do believe. I don't have any statistics in front of me right now but I do believe that that the court is seeing, even though we are still still young, we're seeing positive results with respect to to recidivism and and we're seeing folks graduate and get out there and not come back and not come back into the criminal justice system or the court system. And that is of course a huge benefit to society as a whole.
Theresa Freed [00:25:17] All right. Well thank you for being here today and good luck to you in your new role and then also your continued success in life.
Chris Carter [00:25:23] You're very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Theresa Freed [00:25:25] To learn more about the Veterans Treatment Court go to courts.jocogov.org. You can also visit us at jocogov.org/podcast. We'll have the link there for you. And we'll also have some video of a recent program graduation. Thanks for listening.
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