Alabama Veterans Court program looking for local vets to serve as mentors

By TYLER HANES | The Cullman (Ala.) Times | Published: February 23, 2019

CULLMAN, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — Returning home from military service can be difficult for veterans, and some of those difficulties may result in criminal charges, but efforts are underway to establish a Veterans Treatment Court in Cullman County and mentors are needed to help local veterans get the treatment that they need.

Cullman County Circuit Judge Greg Nicholas said one in five veterans has some kind of impairment related to military service, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or substance abuse, and the Veterans Court is meant for veterans who are suffering from those issues and have gotten into minor trouble in the legal system.

He said veteran treatment courts have specially trained judges, administrators and mentors who understand the specific mental health issues presented and are aware of the resources available through the VA.

People who commit crimes should be held accountable for their actions, but simply sending a person to jail or prison without helping them through service-related issues such as PTSD or substance abuse means they are likely to re-offend in the future, and the Veterans Court is meant to provide that additional help, Nicholas said.

“The underlying issue can be addressed,” he said. “If that’s addressed, then the individual is unlikely to re-offend.”

One thing that sets the Veterans Court apart from other treatment courts is the presence of veteran mentors who are available to help the defendants, and mentors are needed to get the Cullman County Veterans Court off the ground, Nicholas said.

“The mentors are really the heart and soul of the Veterans Court program,” he said.

As part of Veterans Court, defendants are required to make an appearance in front of judges every month, and the mentors will attend all of their court appearances with them, will provide regular support and will help make sure the defendants are following all of the court’s mandates.

“It kind of helps that veteran through the process,” Nicholas said.

All of the mentors are veterans themselves, so they will have knowledge or experience with some of the issues that a defendant may be experiencing, he said.

“Because of the common experiences that they have shared, it does make a special bond,” he said. “They’re more apt to listen to counsel from a fellow veteran.”

Local veterans who are interested in becoming mentors for the Veterans Court can attend an informational session at the Cullman VFW at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Ray Zimmerman, an Army veteran and a lead mentor for the Madison County Veterans Court, will be on hand to answer any questions about the mentorship process.

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