Veterans Court: a first for Jackson County

By Martha Smith
Jackson County Circuit Judge Brent Benson held a presentation on Thursday, July 22, 2021 to talk to local veterans and the community about bringing a Veterans Court to Jackson County. Also present was eight-year Madison County Veterans Court mentor, Colonel Ray Zimmerman (ret.). Zimmerman spoke throughout the presentation, highlighting the process of the Veterans Court from the time a veteran is enrolled in the program, to the time they are awarded their completion.“A mentor’s best tool?” asked Zimmerman. “Just care about your mentee.”

The funding for the program would come from Redemption Township Partners annual grant in the amount of $30,000 that must be renewed each year.
Judge Benson addressed the veterans in the room, stating, “Judge Graham let me tag along about six years ago to a National Drug Court conference, and I learned about Veterans Court. I thought it was a good idea, and until now I didn’t have any way to make it happen. When I was running for office, I said I wanted to do something for veterans, and this is one of those things. It really won’t work without your help.”

The program is considered to be a hybrid of mental health and drug treatment, catering to the extraordinary circumstances most veterans face during and after service and the unique, detrimental effects these circumstances can have on their overall health and well being.

Benson stated, “The biggest difference between this and Drug Court is that it makes use of mentors. Veterans Court without mentors is just Drug Court.”

Mentors must be veterans. To qualify as a veteran, you need to have served in the Armed Forces for at least 10 months of active duty in any capacity, whether in combat or not, and be in possession of your proof of honorable discharge.

Benson also stated that there are currently three participants in the Jackson County Drug Court program who are veterans, and to date, at least 40 veterans have come through the Drug Court program. According to Huntsvillebar.org, the program is a diversionary program designed specifically for veterans of the United States Armed Forces who have been charged with criminal offenses. The program will typically be an average of at least 12 months in duration for a given participant, requiring at least monthly appearances before the Veterans Court judge, coupled with at least monthly meetings with a participant’s counselor and/or mentor. Participants will likely be required to participate in medical and mental health services and whatever counseling is designated for a participant. Any substance abuse counseling or treatment that is recommended or required must be attended and completed as dictated by the Court or its referral officers. The participant will also be responsible to pay any court-ordered monies, costs and fees associated with the underlying charges, to include restitution and counseling services.

The Veterans Court Program is in need of local veterans willing to make the time and effort to reaching out to other veterans and will not be able to be established or function without said help. To learn more about how you can become a mentor to local veterans in need of your help, understanding and guidance, contact Judge Benson’s office at 256.574.9350.

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