New veterans court receives state funding

Most new organizations don’t receive all the funding they request, and the Bartholomew County Veterans Court is no exception.

Four months after providing a provisional certification for the new court, the Indiana Judicial Center has appropriated $44,751 for the first-year program in Columbus.

That’s 32 percent less than the $66,000 requested, but presiding Judge James Worton of Bartholomew Superior Court I said the reduction will not have a significant impact on the court, which began hearing cases in February.

Other funding comes into the program from various fees paid by participants. For example, those charged with misdemeanors pay $100 upfront in initial and administrative fees as well as $20 per month for up to 18 months.

For those charged with felonies, it’s $200 in upfront fees, followed by $30 a month.

The Bartholomew County Veterans Court is regarded as a second chance for certain offenders who have been adversely affected by long-term combat conditions. Besides matters involving Bartholomew County residents, veterans from Decatur, Jennings, Jackson and Brown counties may also have their cases heard by Worton in the special court.

Many participants suffer problems caused by post-traumatic stress, brain trauma, anxiety, depression, chemical dependency, unemployment and homelessness, the judge said.

If veterans are able to successfully meet a series of stringent conditions for at least a year, they may be able to expunge convictions from their record as well as receive housing and employment assistance.

But Worton emphasized that military veterans charged with major felonies, serious violent offenses or sexual offenses, as well as those who had a criminal history prior to their enlistment, are not accepted.

Veterans Court, which is held in Worton’s courtroom on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month, can serve no more than 25 participants at any given time, Worton said.

In early 2015, the Indiana General Assembly approved legislation and funding to help formally expand veterans’ treatment courts.

Since the 2008 founding of the first Veterans Court in Buffalo, New York, 220 programs have been established nationwide that serve about 11,000 veterans, The Associated Press reported.

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The Bartholomew County Veterans Court is considered a problem-solving approach that addresses causes leading to veterans being involved in low-level criminal behavior.

Although participants may be eligible for special assistance, they must agree to stringent conditions during the 12- to-18 month program, including:

  • Admitting guilt.
  • Undergoing an extensive examination prior to being admitted into the program.
  • Going to the Bartholomew County Courthouse weekly to ensure compliance.
  • Undergoing regular risk assessments from case managers, mental health professionals and the Veterans Administration.
  • Complying with all recommended therapies and medical appointments, or face possible jail time and other punitive measures.