Drop and do 20 push-ups.
The five graduates from the Veterans Treatment Court agreed their program should end like it began.
So veterans, police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers and others involved in the program …
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According to an 18th Judicial District news release, “Eligible military veterans with trauma spectrum disorders and/or substance abuse issues may be moved to the Veterans Treatment Court based on decisions made by a team including personnel from the 18th Judicial District courts and Probation Department, prosecutors, public defenders, local law enforcement, treatment professionals and others.”
So veterans, police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers and others involved in the program dropped to the floor and counted the push-ups as they took part in the activity that culminated the Jan. 16 graduation ceremonies.
Five military veterans whose lives had been on slippery slopes celebrated gaining solid footing and the opportunity for a bright future that completion of the program provided.
“I am so grateful for this program because, today, I feel like my life is back where it should have been when I got out of the service,” graduate Kevin Slack said after the ceremonies. “I messed things up when I messed with drugs and alcohol. This program has reversed all the negatives, and my life is back where it should be.”
He said jail time was painful, but it was the birth of a desire to get his life back on track.
“I thank all the veterans and the court personnel who encouraged me to stick with the program and to complete treatment,” he said. “I feel I am ready to get to the next level where I am 100 percent accountable for myself.”
The Veterans Treatment Court is one of several 18th Judicial District problem-solving courts. The goal is to ensure community safety while participants receive treatment and the help they need to return as active, contributing members of the community. Participants may reside anywhere in the district, which encompasses Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties.
There are currently 21 veterans enrolled in the program. The number is expected to grow to 30 — the maximum the program can accommodate — in the next couple months.
Veterans Treatment Court is a voluntary program, and each volunteer agrees to actively engage in treatment and counseling, make regular court appearances and undergo intense supervision.
Each of the veterans was in jail at one point prior to joining the program, and each was sentenced to probation. Most participants graduate in 18-24 months.Magistrate Bonnie McLean, who is on the bench for the program, said the court began in March 2013 when veterans' services advocates, lawyers and others sought ways to help returning veterans who got in trouble with the law.
A veteran who has run afoul of the law needs to apply to become part of the program. A panel of those involved with the treatment court reviews the application. The majority who are accepted agree to join the program.
“The goal was to make sure to protect the community,” said McLean, a Parker resident. “However, at the same time, the program wants to help veterans deal with and hopefully solve the problems that led them into the criminal justice system.”
The atmosphere in the Veterans Treatment Court is very different than in a traditional courtroom. During the Jan. 16 court session, McLean talked one-on-one with veterans in the program. They discussed accomplishments and shared humorous moments. When the judge congratulated the veteran, the standing-room-only crowd in the courtroom gave the veteran a standing ovation.
Following the regular court session, it was time for the graduation ceremonies.George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, told those attending the graduation that a lot of people worked to help the five veterans succeed and reach this point.
He urged them to take advantage of the opportunity to succeed as they reach for lofty goals.
Magistrate McLean brought each graduate to the podium individually. Each graduate, accompanied by family, talked about what the event meant to him.Graduate Dan Mitchell, who served two tours in Iraq, said the treatment court provided him a second chance after he had violated the law.
“It's a new start and I am moving forward,” he said. “I am scheduled to complete the requirements for my master's degree in business so I can graduate in June from the University of Colorado. I plan to put my life back on track as I hope to find a job in the energy industry.”
Fellow graduate Rodney Miller said the court program helped him discover why he didn't fit in with society after he left the service.
“Everyone helped me find my balance,” he told the audience. “I once felt like a lost cause. But so many people encouraged and helped me, so now there is hope for success where there was only failure.”
Miller was always an aspiring artist, and the program helped him step out and tackle the major task of painting a 40-foot-long mural on the wall at Civic Center Apartments.
“Eight veteran artists plus 40 members of the community helped create the pattern for the mural,” he said. “When I stepped on the pattern, I felt the energy from the veterans who helped create the mural.”
Miller, a Denver resident, is headed to the East Coast, where he will travel, helping aspiring artists and accepting public speaking engagements about veterans' issues and his experiences in the program.
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