Okla. court program helps veterans charged with certain crimes to move on
Tulsa World, Okla.
TULSA, Okla. — As Bruce Cato was congratulated by Maj. Gen. Myles Deering for reaching Phase 3 of the Veterans Treatment Court, he felt a swell of support and confidence to stay on track.
It's been hard, Cato said, but the treatment provided by the court program has helped him get to the best point he's reached for some time.
"That doesn't do anything but build confidence," he said about the visit by Deering, adjutant general for Oklahoma, and Brig. Gen. Robert Ireton, retired chief of staff for the Oklahoma Air National Guard.
"It's not just the court system, but it's the entire military that's behind you," Cato said.
Deering and Ireton observed Monday afternoon's court docket for the Tulsa Veterans Treatment Court Program, one of the first special treatment dockets focused on veterans in the country.
More than 70 people who have been charged with certain crimes in Tulsa County use the court to take care of the charges against them while receiving help in dealing with issues that might have led to the crimes in the first place.
The program can take years for a veteran to complete, but the focus is to treat the issues that brought them to the court and help them navigate the myriad services offered to veterans. The court offers incentives for good behavior and punishes mistakes.
Veterans can apply to be diverted into the special court, and the decision for acceptance rests with the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office. A large portion of the cases are drug or alcohol related, but some of the participants are charged with assault.
The court holds sessions weekly to check in with the veterans' progress in each of the five phases. It recognizes the veterans when they advance or make life achievements, such as finding jobs or quitting smoking.
Deering and Ireton encouraged each of the veterans in court Monday to continue their treatment.
"It's a great program to provide them this second chance," Deering said. "This is their opportunity to give back — to get something good out of it."
The Veterans Treatment Court has turned Cato's life around, he said. He joined the Army in 1976 and left in 1979, he said. After being convicted of drug charges, he went through the Drug Court program. But when he slipped back into his old habits and with his old crowd, he ended up living in hotels and with uncertainty.
He has been in the Veterans Treatment Court program since September and, after a rough start, has been able to secure more stable housing, has good job prospects and is completing his education.
"It's the first place I've been able to have on my own in a long time," Cato said of his home.
The program helped him see what led to his destructive habits, he said.
"What I really learned was more about myself," Cato said. "I had to remove all the scars that were inside me to heal myself."
Craig Prosser, a Veterans Treatment Court mentor, said the court has a graduation rate of 92 percent and that nearly all of its graduates stay out of trouble after they leave the program.
Deering encouraged the veterans to make the most of their treatment and not to be afraid to ask for help.
"Do what you need to do to move forward," he said. "We're here to help."