Lexington fights to leave no Veteran behind

Staff Report

(In partnership with multiple organizations around Lexington, Ky., Fayette County is launching a Veterans Treatment Court in order to help Veterans who have “fallen on hard times.” The program needs the support of volunteer Veteran-mentors who can have a positive influence in their fellow Service members that need this critical investment. Please consider joining this endeavor.)

Image courtesy of fightingptsd.org

Image courtesy of fightingptsd.org

LEXINGTON, Ky. — More than 20,000 Veterans currently live in Lexington Ky., and substantial growth in this population is anticipated over the next 18 months as troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan.At least 20 percent of these Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are known to suffer from PTSD and over 80 percent injured of that number have sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury which is not detectable by casual personal observation.  The impact of these conditions are not typically apparent, but they may be debilitating with long-term sequela, or aftereffect of an injury, including depression, anger, anxiety,  memory loss, flashbacks and sleep disturbance.The emotional and psychological damage sustained by these veterans is fully understandable given their experiences:  engaging in personal hand-to-hand combat, having killed aggressors or innocent non-combatants, being injured by a sniper or an IED, seeing friends injured or killed in battle and enduring the wear and tear which results from carrying 75 pounds of gear several hours per day.

“Once back home, veterans are challenged to find an outlet for the hyper-vigilance to which they became accustomed while in combat,” said Fayette Family Court Judge John Schrader, overseeing the incoming program. “Unfortunately many Veterans resort to  self-medication of their emotional and physical injuries by excessive drinking and abuse of illegal drugs. ”

With diminished impulse control and substance abuse concerns, routine incidents such as road rage, being startled by fireworks or even a child’s playful scream can lead a Service member suffering from PTSD to  criminal conduct which results in an arrest.

“While these veterans must be held accountable for their behavior, we know that without appropriate treatment, the problems which caused the criminal activity will continue to haunt them and their families long after they are released from incarceration, notes Schrader. “Unless we provide appropriate help, this person may well engage in the same (or even more serious) criminal behavior after incarceration, and put his or her family and other innocent people at risk of physical and emotional injury or death.”

Fayette Family Court Judge John Schrader

Fayette Family Court Judge John Schrader

Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton has approved the request of Fayette Family Court Judge John Schrader to preside as a volunteer over the Fayette County Veterans Treatment Court, which began its work as a pilot project on Oct. 4, 2013.Veterans Treatment Court is designed to address these problems creatively in order to assist  veterans in recovering their lives.  The program  utilizes the collaborative services of the VA, The Vet Center, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Police, Fayette County Attorney, Fayette County Sheriff, Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy, Fayette County Drug Court and the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts.The program requirements and services offered will be tailored for each Veteran and will include, as appropriate, frequent drug screening, curfew monitor, treatment for mental health and substance abuse, domestic violence offender treatment, family support, job training and placement, and  assistance in obtaining appropriate housing.

A critical feature of VTC includes the ongoing support of a volunteer veteran-mentor (a “Battle Buddy”) who will support the Veteran participating in the program.

Veteran mentors are Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who volunteer their time to assist the Court. These mentors provide advice, personal experiences, recommendations and guidance to those selected for the program. Veteran mentors include those who have served in peacetime, Vietnam, Desert Storm/Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom among others.

The Veteran mentor relationship promotes and fosters, through encouragement, a “can do” attitude in the Veteran; the Veteran becomes motivated to accomplish his or her goals in treatment, feels that he or she is not alone and knows that the mentor and the Court are there for them.

The Lexington, Ky. Veterans Treatment Court has just launched to assist the Veterans within Fayette Co. Ky. The team is lead by Judge John Schrader. (photo submitted)

The Lexington, Ky. Veterans Treatment Court has just launched to assist the Veterans within Fayette Co. Ky. The team is lead by Judge John Schrader. (photo submitted)

Not every Veteran facing criminal charges will be eligible for the program as it will not serve, for example, those charged with violent felony offenses, sexual abuse, trafficking in heroin, and others which the team deems to be inappropriate for treatment.In the pilot program, only those who have received an honorable or general discharge are allowed to participate.  The program relies on the services offered by the VA, but the grant request to be submitted  in early 2014 would allow service of those dishonorably discharged as well, with other service providers. The program  requires approximately 18 months of intensive work by the Veteran, including classes with daily homework assignments, reporting requirements, curfew, therapy and treatment, and weekly court appearances to monitor compliance.  There are progressive sanctions as well for violations of the program requirements which include various terms of incarceration.

The community is invited to support our country’s courageous veterans and the ongoing work of Veterans Treatment Court.  For further information, contact Judge Schrader at johnschrader@kycourts.net.

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