As Thurston County District Court judges and staff began planning for the fifth anniversary of the Veterans Court program this July, they noticed that the 2014 calendar had a lucky little correlation—there are five Wednesdays in the month of July this year, giving them five opportunities to celebrate five years of success in Thurston County Veterans Court.
The public is invited to join in the celebration each Wednesday in July at 4 p.m. at the start of the weekly Veterans Court proceedings with special guest speakers, Veterans Court staff, and Veterans Court graduates and their families.
"When we first introduced Veterans Court back in 2009, we were seeing more and more military veterans show up in court clearly struggling with military-related PTSD, other mental illness, and sometimes drug and alcohol addiction," said District Court Judge Brett Buckley, who is also a veteran and presides over Veterans Court. "We knew that simply punishing them and churning them through the system wouldn't address the underlying causes of their problem behavior. So our goal with Veterans Court all along has been a two-pronged approach—hold them accountable for their actions, but also support them in their efforts to get sober, get treatment, and find stability with their families."
Judge Buckley continued, "Now that we're coming up on the five year anniversary, we're not just celebrating the success of the program. We're really celebrating the success of dozens and dozens of veterans who worked hard to turn their lives around and once again be positive contributors to the Thurston County community."
When Thurston County Veterans Court program was introduced on July 23, 2009 it was only the eleventh such program in the nation. Since then, veterans court programs have grown across the country and now number more than 160.
Thurston County Veterans Court combines rigorous treatment and accountability to veterans and active duty military personnel facing incarceration. Participants sign a contract to complete the voluntary 18-24 month program in order to reduce their jail time or to avoid jail time. The program combines ongoing judicial supervision and intensive monitoring with input from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals led by the judge. Veterans Court staff also work closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care networks, the Veterans' Benefits Administration, the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, Thurston County WorkSource, and other veterans service organizations and legal resources to connect qualifying veterans and military service members with military benefits and programs that will help them achieve sobriety and stability.
Thurston County Veterans Court is one of six therapeutic courts that are funded by the county's Treatment Sales Tax, which was established in January 2009. The one-tenth of one percent sales tax raises about $4 million annually in Thurston County to support Veterans Court and other therapeutic courts, as well as chemical dependency and mental health treatment services for jail inmates and for outpatient mental health and chemical dependency treatment services for adults and juveniles currently involved in the criminal justice system. For more information about the Thurston County Treatment Sales Tax, visit www.co.thurston.wa.us
and click on the "Treatment Sales Tax" tab under Quick Links.
Over the last five years, Thurston County Veterans Court has had 43 participants, and 24 have successfully graduated the program. There are currently 10 who are in the process of completing the program. Graduates often praise the program upon graduation, stating that they have rediscovered the pride, dignity and honor they learned during their service in the United States military and are now applying those principles successfully in their personal lives and with their families.
Thurston County Veterans Court recently launched a volunteer mentor program where other veterans provide help, guidance and advocacy to the participants in a way that only a fellow veteran can provide. Mentors are required to be veterans themselves, and can be graduates of the program.
To learn more about Thurston County Veterans Court and how you can support the program, visit the Thurston County District Court homepage at www.co.thurston.wa.us/distcrt
and click on the "Veterans Court" tab. WHAT: Veterans Court Fifth Anniversary Presentations
- July 2—Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe
- July 9—Veterans Court Graduate Casey Turner and Volunteer Mentor Program Coord. Casey Wegner
- July 16—Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza
- July 23—Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson invited
- July 30—JBLM I-Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza invited
4 p.m. each Wednesday in JulyWHERE:
County Courthouse Building Three—District Court, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW in Olympia, 98502 -30-