New court important way to aid veterans

SAYING veterans need support is nice. Backing those words with meaningful actions is what’s really important. At this time of year, it’s clear that the people of Bartholomew County want to make sure veterans are appropriately honored and receive a helping hand.

The list of local restaurants providing free meals for veterans on Veterans Day keeps getting longer. Those nice gestures surely were appreciated.

An opportunity for additional support is coming up with the annual Wreaths Across America effort. About 750 holiday wreaths will be placed on veterans’ headstones in Garland Brook Cemetery on Dec. 14. An effort to raise nearly $10,000 to pay for the wreathes is under way by the Sons of the American Legion. Anyone wishing to contribute can contact organizer Ron Shadley by calling 812-376-3341.

Another local effort intends to provide second chances to veterans who have fallen on hard time. It’s the newly created Veterans Court, a problem-solving court for former military personnel in Bartholomew County that’s expected to begin in mid-January.

When veterans come home from war, some struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction and mental health problems. Those problems sometimes contribute to veterans running afoul of the law. That’s where the Veterans Court comes in.

Rather than just sending veterans to jail, the court aims to help them recover by completing an intensive voluntary program that includes phases of treatment and standards to be met in order to graduate after 18 months.

The program is designed primarily for first-time, nonviolent offenders, and they must be approved by a committee to be accepted into the program. A limit of 25 veterans can be in the program at any given times because of state guidelines. Those who are accepted are assigned program mentors and also might receive employment and housing assistance. Veterans charged with major felonies, serious violent offenses or sex crimes are ineligible for the program.

Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge Jim Worton led a group of stakeholders much of the past year in creating the Veterans Court. A lot of thought and care was put into creating a program that shows great compassion for veterans.

Veterans give a lot in order to serve their country, leaving jobs and families for extended periods of time. For some, their missions put them in harm’s way, and they experience things that most people do not. When they come home, it can be difficult readjusting to normal life.

All of these efforts combined make a strong local statement, reflecting a necessary and never-ending commitment to the military men and women whose loyalty and bravery cannot be questioned.