Last Wednesday, a crowd gathered at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to commemorate the launch of an important new program designed to help rehabilitate those members of the military veteran population who experience great personal strife and end up facing serious legal problems.
The program -- known as the Milwaukee County Veteran's Treatment Initiative and Treatment Court -- is designed to "divert [veterans] from the traditional criminal justice system and provide them with the tools they will need to lead a productive and law-abiding life."
In other words, the program is similar to diversion or treatment courts in that it gives veterans -- many of whom have struggled with alcohol, drugs, traumatic brain injuries and/or mental health issues -- the chance to get the help they need, stay out of jail and keep a criminal conviction off their record.
The Veteran's Treatment Initiative and Treatment Court does all this by combining existing programs provided by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and various veterans groups with both the supervision and accountability provided by the court system.
The court, which is in session on Wednesday mornings, is open to all veterans, except for those who have been charged with violent crimes or gun-related crimes. Potential candidates will be identified by law enforcement officials during the jail booking process and put in contact with both the State Public Defender's Office and the VA. From there, these individuals will be vetted to determine whether they qualify for the program.
Interestingly, the Veteran's Treatment Initiative and Treatment Court also provides veterans with mentors. These mentors -- all of whom volunteer their time through the veterans program Dryhootch and all of whom served in the armed forces -- get together with their mentees outside of court and provide the court with regular updates on their progress.
The Milwaukee County Veteran's Treatment Initiative and Treatment Court -- which was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration -- is actually one of many here in the state of Wisconsin. The first was opened by Rock County back in 2009.
Sources: State Public Defender's Office, "State Public Defender's Office announces the opening of the Milwaukee County Veteran's Treatment Initiative and Treatment Court," Nov. 28, 2012; Wisconsin Court System, "Information for Veterans," Aug. 9, 2012