The Norman Transcript

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December 21, 2012

Leave no veteran behind

NORMAN — Court programs assist those who served America

Cleveland County officials want no veteran needing help to be left behind — even those who have had a brush with the law.

Veterans may come home to a hero’s welcome, but those happy homecomings don’t mean their lives will transition smoothly. Some veterans suffer from issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.

The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics estimates there are around 23 million veterans in the nation. Of those, some eventually come into conflict with the law and end up in jail and the court system. In response, veterans court programs have begun springing up to help veterans with mental health and substance abuse issues and to connect them with resources.

The first veteran’s court opened in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, according to the National Center for State Courts (ww.ncsc.org). Tulsa County’s Veterans Treatment Court was the first in Oklahoma and the third in the United States. Judge Sarah Day Smith called the initial Tulsa Veterans Treatment Court docket on Dec. 8, 2008. The program’s success is one many other counties and states want to emulate.

In August, officials from across the nation visited Tulsa to learn more about the program. Cleveland County is among those who hope to use Tulsa’s model in creating a local veterans court.

“What we’ve started to do is to identify them (veterans),” said Julia Curry, Oklahoma Court Services director. “A lot of guys had no idea there’s resources out there they might be eligible for.”

With the help of the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office staff at the jail, Curry is identifying and contacting veterans who have been imprisoned. While an actual veterans court is at least 60 days down the road, Curry’s staff has already begun connecting veterans with resources through Veterans Corner and through the Office of Veterans Affairs, working with Joe Dudley, the veteran’s resource specialist.

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