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Central Texas Veterans 'graduate' from criminal offenses with program's support, healing

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Posted at 3:29 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 18:03:20-04

The McLennan County Veterans Treatment Court is holding its first graduation this Friday.

Three veterans are graduating from the McLennan County Specialty Court for Veterans, supported by a grant from the Texas Veterans Commission Fund for Veterans’ Assistance. Graduates meet twice a month in the first two-thirds of the individualized treatment program, then once a month until graduation.

One in six veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from substance abuse, according to Justice for vets, and one in five suffer from PTSD. The program hopes to provide structured support surrounding these issues, to help veterans avoid misdemeanors, DWIs, and non-violent felonies.

"Emphasizing treatment, rather than incarceration, the McLennan County Veterans Treatment Court is a voluntary, court-monitored treatment program that addresses the mental health and/or substance abuse issues of a veteran defendant with misdemeanor or felony charges," said the McLennan County Specialty Courts department.

The Central Texas county expects to see a reduction in criminal behavior through the program, as the Texas Department of Veteran Affairs reported that Central Texas veterans’ courts have a high success rate, according to the McLennan County VTC.

"Program successes so far include six participants have repaired one or more relationships with their family, five participants have obtained new housing since entering the program, four participants have gone back to school, four participants have obtained new employment, four participants have learned how to use technology and one participant has established VA benefits,” said Tiffany Love, Veterans Justice Outreach specialist.

Love is a clinical social worker who works with veterans’ outreach in a 10-county area and serves as an advocate for veterans, the VA, and the court system. Participants of the program do not have to reside in McLennan County, or be combat veterans, but their county must approve participation in the specialty court.

"Veterans in this court also receive help from fellow veterans through the Military Veteran Peer Network who support, encourage and assist them in navigating VA and local services, which is available through the Heart of Texas Veteran’s One Stop," said Love.

According to the VTC, applicants can be referred to the veterans' court by an arresting officer, self-refer, or defense attorney.

According to the McLennan County Judge’s Office, applicants must meet the following criteria:

McLennan County Judge’s Office

Veterans are assessed by the VA or a local mental health professional to assess the need for substance abuse and/or mental health counseling, and additionally for eligibility for compensation, a pension, educational benefits, vocational training, housing, and medical services.

The VTC is presided over by Judge Gary Coley, for more information call (254) 759-7557.