Calhoun County judge introduces Veterans Treatment Court program - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Calhoun County judge introduces Veterans Treatment Court program

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Veterans struggling with legal issues in Calhoun County have a new option to offer a second chance.
A new Veterans Treatment Court will help provide counseling and other alternatives to jail for veterans with problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
"An individual comes to your car and waves a flashlight in their hand and starts aggressively approaching you, and you're suffering from post-traumatic stress or a traumatic brain injury, your button, your flip, your switch goes," disabled veteran Frank Crow said.
"You strike that person, not knowing that's a police officer.  It's really not your fault.  You don't know that you really did that."
Crow said that can be the result of a fight or flight instinct, drilled into soldiers through repetitive training.
"Somebody says 'duck' and we duck, and in normal situations that person probably recognizes that I wouldn't have done that, and that's the person that's going to graduate" from the Veterans Treatment Court program, Crow said.
Circuit Court Judge Brenda Stedham started the program at the request of the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts.  She is also the presiding judge for family court cases in Calhoun and Cleburne Counties.
"The reason for it happening is the injury that they have sustained.  They have a traumatic injury that is similar to that of NFL players," Stedham said about some veterans who would qualify for the treatment court program.
"The difference is that NFL players have doctors on the sidelines.  These guys get multiple concussions and they're not diagnosed, and they're not treated, and they have multiple deployments.  The brain injury becomes worse and worse and worse," she said.
"When they come back, they don't know where or how to seek treatment, or they think it's sissy to seek treatment."
With this program, Judge Stedham can order treatment for the veterans whose "invisible injuries" cause problems.  There is a screening process to determine which cases are appropriate for the Veterans Treatment Court.
"First they plead guilty to whatever their charge is and they understand what the penalties will be if they don't successfully complete.  They have to appear once a week in my court and report on their progress," Stedham said.
Participants must complete a year-long process which requires them to pass regular drug tests, attend counseling, and meet with other veterans who will serve as mentors, called Battle Buddies.
"If they do those things, and continue to either stay employed or get an education and fill their time with healthy activities and receive the treatment that they need, then they're good with me," Stedham said.
Failure to complete the program will be punished with jail time.  Judge Stedham said there are currently two Calhoun County veterans facing 10 years in prison whom she believes are cases for the special court program.  She said they can pay their debts to society through treatment instead of jail.

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