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All Rise: Veterans Treatment Courts Provide Valuable Help

OCTOBER 10, 2017 | 3-minute read

Years before Tim began working for a Veterans Treatment Court, he woke up in a jail cell, questioning whether he wanted to live anymore.

Tim, U.S. Air Force Veteran

He had just been charged with his second DUI. He was devastated and wondered where his life went from here.

“At that point, I just said, ‘God, either let me get this, or I don’t want to be around,” Tim remembers. “And I think that’s what it took for me, to break that ego, to thinking I had to fix this [alone]. … I had to get help.”

In the days, weeks, and years that followed, the Air Force Veteran and retired firefighter not only found that help but also began to deliver it to others: Tim is now a mentor and treatment coordinator at a Veterans Treatment Court in Detroit.

These courts are designed to offer Veterans who have been charged with crimes a chance to seek mental health or substance use treatment, typically through VA networks. The first Veterans Treatment Court was established in Buffalo, New York, in 2008. By early 2012, there were almost 90 of them across the United States.

“In my case, I would have never picked to work for a court. … But this is where I’m needed, and I found out it’s like a calling.”

The choice to attend a Veterans Treatment Court, rather than a traditional court in the justice system, is completely voluntary. Eligible Veterans then receive treatment and tools to assist them, and a judge regularly checks on their progress.

“There is help, and when you recover you find out it’s not as bad as the way it was, and it could be even better than you ever imagined,” Tim says. “I want others to get this, and I want them to take advantage of it. And don’t hide, because isolation will kill you.”

“In my heart, I know that … we’re getting people the help they need.”

After that second DUI charge, Tim found the help he needed and stopped trying to go it alone. He entered a recovery program and attended support groups. He hasn’t had a drink since.

“When the military takes us into basic [training], they tear us down and build us up the way they want us — and a lot of that is fearless, and failure is not an option,” Tim says. “This isn’t failure. Failure’s not getting the help. It takes more guts to reach out and ask for the help and follow through with it.”

Tim had wanted to be a firefighter since he was just 15 years old. The Air Force provided an avenue to chase that dream — after serving as a firefighter in the Air Force, he joined a civilian fire department and later retired as a fire chief.

Now his world revolves around the courts and another title: grandfather.

“I can gladly say now that all six of my grandchildren have never seen their grandfather drunk,” Tim says. “And instead of ‘You can’t be around them,’ it’s ‘Can you babysit?’ or ‘Can you take them?’ or ‘Can you come to this party?’”

Just recently, he sat in the audience while his grandson took the stage in an elementary school play. Tim’s voice catches as he remembers the event. He pauses. “It’s very special,” he says.

It’s the kind of moment Tim’s now working to deliver to other Veterans. “The main thing is … you’re a Veteran. You volunteered to fight for this country and there are programs that are fighting for you.”


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