As Veterans Day approaches, Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judges Lila Statom and Alex McVeagh announce the renewed push to increase veteran participation in Hamilton County’s misdemeanor mental health and drug recovery court dockets.
Nationally, over 107,000 veterans are incarcerated with more than a fourth of those having served in combat. Men and women often struggle with hidden injuries that accompany military deployment and conflict, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, anger issues and substance abuse. These internal battles can result in behavior that moves these veterans into the criminal justice system, and in certain cases, an opportunity may be present to do more than simply incarcerate as part of the appropriate sentencing.
“A veteran’s treatment and supervision track within Mental Health Court that concentrates on serving veterans suffering from mental health issues and/or substance use disorder would incorporate the proper sentencing for non-violent veterans through the collaborative treatment court model of rehabilitation and restoration,” observed Judge Statom, currently serving in Division IV of the Hamilton County General Sessions Court. “We hope to assist our veterans in returning to a contributing role in our community while also keeping our community safe.”
Tennessee has 82 recovery courts which currently includes ten Veterans Treatment Courts. Hamilton County General Sessions Court serves as home to both the misdemeanor Mental Health Court, which Judge Statom helped found in 2015 and over which she currently presides, as well as the misdemeanor Drug Recovery Court, which Judge McVeagh helped found in 2019 and over which he currently presides. Judges Statom and McVeagh are dedicated to increasing the number of veterans enrolled and participating in these programs.
“These misdemeanor treatment courts provide more than punitive incarceration for certain non-violent individuals who have entered the criminal justice system. They create needed structure, address the root problems and help the participants turn their lives around while paying their debt to society,” noted Judge McVeagh, who also serves in Division II of General Sessions Court.
The Hamilton County Mental Health Court team previously secured technical assistance under the Veteran Treatment Court Initiative from the Justice for Vets, a division of the NADCP. This assistance allowed Mental Health Court to form partnerships with the VA and local community partners to better serve justice-involved veterans as part of our existing recovery courts.
“The goal, with available funding, is to incorporate a veteran’s track within Hamilton County’s existing treatment court dockets, which would involve appropriate screening and supervision of justice-involved veterans to incorporate services such as mandatory counseling, drug screening, medical treatment and other programs for which veterans are eligible,” stated Judge Statom.
Anyone who needs assistance with enrolling in programs specifically available to veterans, or in applying for benefits such as service-connected disability or VA healthcare, are encouraged to work with the Hamilton County Veterans Services Office.