Some who watch a lot of reality television might say that Julian Michaels is the toughest coach around. But, most of them have probably never been to the North Texas Regional Veterans Court to see Judge John R. Roach Jr.
Roach runs the veteran’s court program that is available to vets in Rockwall, Kaufman, Grayson, Fannin and Collin counties.
Part cheerleader, part confidant, part drill sergeant, Roach keeps the participants of the court on their toes and on task. When they do good, his praise elicits smiles and applause from the participants and the crowd. When they mess up, he is as crisp and frank as any great-grandmother ever dared to be.
On July 26, he watched as three of court’s participants moved into the final phase of the three phase program. Each man who spoke acknowledged that the program had probably saved their lives.
Veteran’s court is tailored to the needs of each veteran but it can take 6- 24 months to complete.
Phase 1 of the program helps to get the veteran off of drugs or alcohol and stabilized on medication, if needed. To go forward to Phase 2, the veteran must be clean from alcohol and illegal drug use for at least 30 days and have no new arrests or probation violations in addition to other requirements.
To move from Phase 2, which focuses on re-integration into society and relapse prevention, one must be clean from alcohol and illegal drugs for at least 60 consecutive days and have at least 16 weeks of medication compliance, among other criteria.
That final phase focuses on continuing care, according information on the court found on the Fannin County District Attorney’s Website. It requires, among other things, 120 consecutive days clean from alcohol and illegal drugs and six months of medication compliance. It also requires the veteran to be in safe and stable housing and to have a source of income and medical insurance. The veteran must also be engaged in on-going treatment, or volunteer actives.
Speaking to one participant at the Grayson County Courthouse on July 26, Roach didn’t have to say he wasn’t happy that the man had failed to make curfew twice at a treatment program in Waco. The judge’s tone said it all. “Who do you think you are?” Roach asked the man.
Roach then said the veteran seemed to think he was entitled to something or that he was the victim of something. Roach said the only thing the man is a victim of are circumstances of his own doing and he better get a grip on that right quick.
The participant in handcuffs responded to Roach’s questions by saying he wanted to go to the Veterans Accessing Lifelong Opportunities for Rehabilitation program rather than prison.
Roach looked him over and said he didn’t know yet if that was going to be possible.
The next fellow up to bat in the court had been through the V.A.L.O.R. program and explained that it could be the best thing in the world for his fellow veteran.
“It’s great as long as you use the program to your advantage,” he said.
The program is not a privately paid treatment center where participants can leave or feel free to take the program or leave it. It is a state-funded, in-custody facility.
“It … offers Veteran offenders who are facing probation revocations or incarceration,” the brochure for the program online at CollinCountytx.gov says. “Our program is designed to help Veteran defendants develop better decision-making and coping skills and provide them with the necessary tools to enhance their well-being and assist with their reintegration into society.”
V.A.LO.R. offers programs for PTSD, MST and TBI and individual counseling based on a mental health assessment. It also offers military benefits and life skills and parenting lessons along with anger management, moral reconation therapy, mindfulness practices and conflict resolution among others. Participants work in the morning and then attend therapy for the rest of the day.
Roach said V.A.L.O.R. is just one of the programs that has come out of the North Texas Regional Veterans Court. The court has also inspired a breakfast group that meets before court. Started by Grayson County Justice of the Peace Rita Noel, the breakfast allows the veterans a chance to socialize before the court meeting. Breakfasts are sponsored by local businesses and organizations.
Roach said the practice has caught on at other veterans courts across the state.
The Walker House
Roach announced another chance for the veterans to socialize last Friday. The Walker House sponsored by Texoma Community Center will allow the veterans to meet there on the second and 4th Mondays of each month at 6 p.m. to participate in a guided curriculum to help them process information.
During the introductions part of the session, Franklin Hotchkiss announced himself as a visitor and a new peer mentor.
Those mentors stand with the veteran each session as he faces the court. They are there to provide one-on-one support during the process. Hotchkiss, who has a degree in substance abuse counseling, said he was sent to prison a couple of times in his younger years.
“I know that most of my problems were related to being injured in the military and I thought I wanted to help veterans,” he said. He added a counselor like himself has a success rate of about 1 in 1,000.
“You can see that this Veterans Court has a better success rate than that.”
Since the Veteran’s Court program was started in Grayson County, 28 veterans have been admitted to the program and nine have graduated. There are 11 currently in the program and eight were discharged without graduating.
“The majority of those unsuccessfully discharged from the program was due to a failure to follow program requirements,” Program Manager Brennan Rivera-Jones said. “This could mean anything from continued drug use to a failure to attend appointments or complete their individual treatment programs.”
Collin County’s Veteran’s Court started in 2013 and they have had 83 veterans start the program with 40 currently enrolled. Twenty-three have graduated and 20 were discharged.
Rockwall County started its program in June 2015 and has had 36 enter with 14 current participates. Rockwall has has 19 graduates and three discharged.
Kaufman County’s program began in March of 2016 and has 21 total particpants with 11 graduates and eight current participants. Two were discharged.
Fannin County’s program began in June of 2016 and has 19 veterans participate with six currently participating and six graduates. The county has had seven who were discharged.
The majority of those unsuccessfully discharged from the program were due to a failure to follow program requirements. This could mean anything from continued drug use to a failure to attend appointments or complete their individual treatment programs.
While all of the veterans who enter the program vary in experience, addiction and abilities to overcome the problems they face, Rivera-Jones said those who successfully complete the program have one characteristic in common and it is trust.
“Once they begin to trust us – the veterans court team – they also begin to trust their treatment providers, the legal system as a whole, and – most importantly – they begin to trust in themselves again,” she said. “They begin to rely on and put faith in themselves and their ability to cope and heal. That trust is a huge component and is a large reason why this program is so important and effective. We’re able to help reinstill the comradery of a unit and the pride each participant has earned and still deserves.”
What do you think about he veteran’s court program? Let Criminal Justice Editor Jerrie Whiteley know at JWhiteley@HeraldDemocrat.com.