By Mark Ambrogi
Lisa Wilken is a firm believer in the value of Veterans Treatment Courts.
The purpose is to give many first offender military service veterans a second chance. There are courts in Hamilton and Marion counties and 13 total statewide. In the 2015 legislation session, Indiana lawmakers enabled legislation and funding ($500,000 for each year) in the budget bill to expand the Veteran Treatment Courts.
Wilken is the women’s liaison and assistant legislative director for department of Indiana AMVETS.
“What we’ve seen across the board specifically with Veterans Treatment Courts if we have a veteran is having an issue with law enforcement and get involved in the judicial system, there is a specific criteria that has to be met for the veteran to qualify, and there is certain crimes that are excluded,” said Wilken, who lives in Westfield. “If it is determined that veteran is eligible, what happens is they are given a second chance because of their service-connected disabilities. If that is something the veteran is struggling with, they are provided a resource through the Veterans Treatment Court.”
Wilken said they have the process includes mentors and a support system.
“Because of that (support), that one bad mistake they made because of a service-connected disability, they get the opportunity to not have a felony record and get the help and services that they need to overcome or live with their service-connected disability,” Wilken said.
The first Veterans Treatment Court was launched in 2008 because of an increasing numbers of veterans appearing before the courts to face charges stemming from substance abuse, mental health disorders, and/or trauma.
“As Veterans Treatment Courts continued grow in the state, more veterans are eligible to be able to use their services that they are entitled to because of their service-connected disability,” Wilken said.
Wilken, an Air Force veteran, said if these courts can stop veterans from continually being in the system, it will have monetary benefit.
“We are saving the state an exorbitant amount of money between services spent for the judicial system and housing for jail, there is ripple effect because that veteran has a family,” Wilken said. “They more than likely had a job where they were contributing and paying taxes. If you can save the veteran from going through the criminal justice system for the one mistake they made, if it is related to a service-connected disability, it can make a huge difference in the local community in the amount of money it can save our social service programs.”
Wilken said the violent crimes are not eligible on the national model.
“Where it becomes tricky in that issue is domestic violence because a lot of times that is the result of substance abuse and that is a result of trying to self-medicate for a service-connected disability,” Wilken said. “Those type of things are looked at on a case-by-case basis.”
Wilken said the mentors come from the local communities. such as the prosecutor’s office and the judicial circuit. There is also a liaison set up with the nearest VA Medical Center.
Wilken said studies have shown many veterans aren’t getting the care the need for those disabilities.
“Sometimes they make poor decisions on their own, that’s why these courts are so important here,” Wilken said.
The goal is to Veteran Treatment Court in all 11 judicial districts, she said.