A new veterans treatment court has begun in Oklahoma County as a way to divert veterans with severe substance abuse disorders from prison. The court held its first docket last Tuesday with a handful of veterans who will undergo a rigorous 18- to 24-month program aimed at recovery instead of prison time. “I think it’s great that we have people working for us that want to support us,” one participant told the courtroom on Tuesday. Participants are required to engage in counseling sessions, take drug tests and attend court. They’ll also receive help connecting to benefits and treatment options. Veterans will be assigned a partner who is also going through the program, dubbed a “battle buddy,” as a way to encourage accountability, as well as being paired with a community mentor who is also a veteran. Catt Burton, head of diversion programs for the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, said she has pushed for the treatment court for the last two years. The county recently received a roughly $500,000 grant that made the court possible. It’s a critical need, Burton said. “If we don’t get them help with this disorder, they’ll be right back (in court),” she said.
“We interview all of our veterans, and over the years, the theme of those interviews is that they want to restore their honor. They want to be proud of themselves again.” The new treatment court marks the continued expansion of diversion programs aimed at reforming the county’s criminal justice system. Judge Kenneth Stoner will oversee the new treatment court. Stoner also runs the county’s successful drug court. The county also has a veterans diversion program, but it is designed for low-risk, low-need offenders. Stoner said the treatment court allows higher-need individuals a chance to work with a team trained to handle problems unique to veterans. Read more at The Oklahoman.