February 2, 2015 marked the commencement of San Joaquin County's first Veterans Treatment Court. For about five years, Judges Barbara Kronlund and Richard Vlavianos pondered how a veterans' court could be added to the list of collaborative courts that are presently being operated in San Joaquin County. There was always a basic problem—where to hold court? There was simply no room within the criminal departments to add another calendar.
After about a year of meetings with the court's collaborative justice partners and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a protocol was agreed upon. Veterans Court is now in Department 42 of the Stockton Courthouse, Judge Kronlund's civil department. Veterans Court is held on the first Monday of each month, from 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. The calendar is small at this point, and matters are heard quickly.
It is an alternative sentencing program which requires regular court appearances as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions and frequent random testing for substance abuse.
Due to a high, and growing, number of combat veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury following their combat experiences, a growing number of courts are adding a veterans' treatment court to their calendars. Research continues to draw a link between substance abuse and combat-related mental illness which, when left untreated, can result in veterans becoming involved in the criminal justice system. Like anyone with untreated mental illness, suffers often follow the route of self-medication, whether through abuse of alcohol, drugs, or a combination. Given their past experiences in the Armed Forces, veterans generally respond favorably to the structured environment of Veterans Court.
A major component of the Veterans Court is the Volunteer Mentor Program, which pairs honorably-discharged veterans from the community with our veteran defendants. Mentors offer support and encouragement to their assigned veteran over the 12-18 month program. The mentor can act as a liaison between service providers and the Veterans Court, and allow the veterans to air any concerns they have, getting feedback from another veteran who has successfully navigated life after service. The mentor is a role-model of sorts, and a sounding board as well as veteran advocate.
The Court is presently recruiting veterans to serve as mentors to veterans assigned to Veterans Court. Mentors offer support and encouragement to their assigned veteran over the 12-18 month program.
While mentor training will be provided, the mentor is not a counselor and does not provide counseling to their assigned veteran. Mentors serve in the role of coach or guide, to encourage and support the veteran as he or she progresses through the Veterans Court. Mentors may assist the Veteran in accessing treatment, benefits, and meeting the requirements of the Veterans Court, so the Mentors attend court sessions with their assigned veteran when available to do so. The goal of Veterans Court is to connect veterans to counseling and other services and to get them out, and keep them out, of the criminal justice system in the future.
The Court is recruiting veterans to serve as mentors to veterans assigned to Veterans Court. Gene Eacret, local attorney and veteran, is serving as the Veterans Court Mentor. Mr. Eacret can be reached at (209) 639-7582. Veterans or individuals that know a veteran who would like to volunteer to be a mentor in Veterans Court, any anyone that would like more information, is encouraged to contact Mr. Eacret or Virginia Wimmer, San Joaquin County's Veterans Services Officer, who can be reached at (209) 468-2916. Mentor training will be scheduled in the near future.