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Veterans' Court: Emphasis on treatment, not punishment

Veteran’s treatment court has created an alternative to normal court sentencing by judges in Pierce County since 2011.

This rehabilitation program works with veterans after they have committed a crime and are sentenced to veteran’s treatment court to help veterans avoid those behaviors again.

It is a “new concept that came up regarding treatment courts and it came up one or two years before we started ours in 2011,” said Veterans Services Officer David Till.

Pierce County was the third of five counties in Wisconsin to create a veteran’s treatment court.

Till said his two combat deployments “helps me to understand directly what a lot of these people are dealing with.”

Some of these are anger, family and readjustment issues, along with coping with post-traumatic stress.

When veterans come back from service, Till said they do not always take advantage of the counseling programs available. Instead, they turn to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, or to violence.

Dealing with their circumstances illegally is not the only way for them to end up in court, though.

“A lot of times, it’s just veterans doing what they were trained to do by the U.S. government back home,” said Till, “where they shouldn’t be doing it.”

For instance, actions that became muscle memory for them while deployed, like disarming people, are illegal if applied to law enforcement officials.

“When you’re trained to respond,” he said, “you respond.“

As a result, Till said veteran’s court was created to “focus on dealing with the mental health issues behind it so it doesn’t happen again.”

To be eligible for veteran’s court, veterans have to show they have a mental health issue driving their actions.

“Let’s face it,” Till said, “any transition out of the service you’re going to have some sort of mental health issue that’s treatable.”

Once they are sentenced to veteran’s court, Till and a group of other officials look at all the different aspects of the veteran’s life, including mental health, family life and probation, to figure out how to best meet their needs.

“All this information will be considered,” Till said, “And the team comes up with a plan for the next time period between meetings.”

Till said this could range from finding mental health treatment to finding them somewhere to live.

“It’s a team approach,” he said, and “a treatment court concept” instead of only punishment.

The program in place now can be done in 18 weeks, but typically takes a year-and-a-half.

In the future, Till said the team hopes to create shorter tracks to help rehabilitate veterans who commit smaller, misdemeanor crimes.

Till said he thinks the addition of smaller programs will “probably be helping a lot more veterans.”

For more information, contact David Till at 715-273-6753.