Second Chances for Veterans from Veterans Treatment Court

Rigorous treatment program turns lives around


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Veterans can endure many hardships when it comes time to transition back into civilian life. Often, service members use alcohol to support traditions or fill voids. Some find themselves addicted to legal and illegal substances. Some wind up on the wrong side of the law. That’s where Courts Assisting Military Offenders-Reno (CAMO-RNO) steps in.

CAMO-RNO, known as Veterans Treatment Court, is a 12- to 18-month treatment option for high risk/high need Veteran offenders. The program models other courts that serve Veterans who struggle with substance use and/or mental health issues.

The road to CAMO-RNO begins with a question. The judge asks individuals who police accuse of a misdemeanor crime if they are Veterans. If they answer yes, the judge asks them if they would like to apply for CAMO-RNO.

Judge O’Neil and a graduating Veteran.

Multidisciplinary team reviews each case

The court submits their case for approval to a multidisciplinary team of professionals. The team addresses the criminal conduct and ability to treat the existing behavioral health problems.

If approved, the team asks the Veteran to appear before the Honorable Judge Shelly O’Neill. O’Neill has a reputation for being compassionate and fair, yet firm. Her approach resonates well for Veterans who spent years in an environment that expected adherence to standards and demanded accountability when failing to meet them.

O’Neil’s team includes a judicial coordinator who holds everything together. Also, the team has a prosecutor who treats each Veteran with the utmost respect and a marshal known to shed a tear or two as a Veteran graduates from the program.

In addition, VA provides two licensed clinical social workers, who are Veteran justice outreach coordinators. These individuals provide resources and help keep Veterans on track with counseling appointments and treatments. Also, a mentor coordinator oversees a group of volunteer mentors, or battle buddies, who help Veterans meet demanding program requirements.

Court requirements

Program requirements include weekly — sometimes daily — appointments with therapists and counselors. It also may include self-help appointments, such as with Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. It can prove a bit overwhelming for some.

“It’s like drinking water from a fire hose,” O’Neill tells Veterans new to the program. Despite the rigorous requirements, most Veterans can “drink water from a fire hose” and successfully complete the program.

Praised Veterans for having faith in themselves

On June 16, 2020, nine Veterans stood single file in a downtown Reno parking lot. They were surrounded by their closest peers — all socially distanced — as O’Neill conducted the second graduation ceremony from CAMO-RNO.

A marshal was one of many graduation attendees who were moved by Veterans’ stories.

“First, I would like to thank VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System director Lisa Howard and her staff,” she said. “The VA hospital and its staff are vital partners in the success of our treatment court.”

The judge spoke directly to the graduating Veterans. She praised them for overcoming adversity and having enough faith in themselves and the program to make it to graduation day. Each Veteran accepted a plaque and a specially designed challenge coin. They spoke to the crowd, sharing their personal struggles and their takeaways from this experience.

Each Veteran’s road to Veterans Treatment Court is different, but most of them share the same result: gaining their life back. Some regained families. Others acquired a new one along the path to sobriety. Regardless, all said the court saved their lives and they would always consider the team family.

One graduating Veteran will attend a local university to earn a degree in nursing, adding that because of the treatment and the caring of the court team, the Veteran would teach a child to grow up respecting law enforcement.

Marshal moved by Veterans’ stories

That was when O’Neill’s marshal teared up.

O’Neill reminded each graduate that the crimes that had landed them before Veterans Treatment Court over a year ago were now expunged and their records sealed. They now had a clean slate, a true second chance.


Shane Whitecloud, a Navy Veteran, and Michael Brogan, an Air Force Veteran, are public affairs officers at VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Charlotte Romine    

    There is a VTC in Gainesville, FL.

  2. John Logan Deck    

    Guilt or innocence is not the bottom line issue here….I can remember a time when the V A would deny a veteran care as soon as individual was incarcerated….now the VA is helping .We need to continue to expand compassionate care.

  3. Adam Stump    

    You can read about the Veterans Justice Outreach Program at https://www.va.gov/homeless/vjo.asp.

  4. Jennifer Cannon    

    The VTC is a bait and switch model. No doubt veterans of above anyone deserves a second chance; however, why do you make it mandatory to plead guilty in writing before accepting a veteran into the program. There is a flaw in the design. What if a veteran is truly innocent. It’s either you fight the court system and spend thousands of money and risk jail time anyhow or plead guilty to do this program. There has to be some constitutional rights being violated here. I’ve known several of veterans truly innocent that were bribed into this program to avoid jail time. That’s wrong!

    1. Alex cruz    

      Who says they have to plead guilty? I didn’t read that in the story

  5. Steven Richard Bockert    

    I’ve needed long term treatment oppositions for 40 years. I keep falling through the cracks.

  6. Scott Saltou    

    Sounds like I should move to Reno from Minnesota

  7. Kenny Holzemer    

    Is there a blueprint somewhere for transplanting this kind of program to other jurisdictions? I am a vets housing case manager,and I know of number of vets in my area who might be candidates. KH

  8. Charlie Boyd    

    Are there any of the programs in the east?

    1. Paul Tolleson    

      There is one in Calhoun County, Alabama. I am forever grateful for the second chance I received from there

  9. Staeden Lawrence    

    They need to raise the income level rules for many of us vets that get turned down for medical care.

    1. Kim Biddle    

      There are several veterans treatment courts in Florida also. Am involved as a Mentor Coordinator and Mentor. Have seen some truly remarkable changes in many individuals due to this problem solving court.

  10. roger mello    

    Mental health of veterans and non veterans is an issue that does not get enough attention. Not many of us can talk to family or friends about getting treatment for mental health. God forbid that you admit to seeing a psychiatrist, since it has that stigma that you have a “few screws loose”.

    There are medications that do not fall into the heavy opioid group that are beneficial for treatment. Whether it would be for PTSD, MST, or General Anxiety Disorder, it is well worth publishing symptoms and treatment options.

    Lastly there are so many tinnitus sufferers that have these psychological symptoms and don’t realize their etiology was service related noise exposure.

    Great article and my thoughts are with them and their success moving forward.

  11. Brian Damron    

    This venue literally saved my life. I went through this program in Kansas City, Missouri, and I am grateful for the second chance at life. Now I am in college working towards a Human Services degree and then onto my Masters in Social Work. I want to be a court liaison between Veterans and Veterans Treatment Court.

  12. Michael baldwin    

    I see the Reno. Prgm being a model to have more.throught usa go.by. what about.those who.are deserving of a medal for saving. Lives in harms way. Then being.thrown out like trash cause a. Saco addicted switchs the ua bottles. Facts 2 years after an no reversal or nothing.

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