BALDWIN COUNTY, ALABAMA
VETERANS COURT PROGRAM
The first Veterans Treatment Court of the United States was established in Buffalo, New York by Judge Robert T. Russell, Jr. in 2008. A federal grant was received by the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts in 2012 to explore the creation of a Veterans Court in Alabama, and Shelby County was selected as the Pilot Program. The Shelby County Veterans Treatment Court began in the fall of 2012 and is modeled after the Veterans Treatment Court in Buffalo, New York. In December, 2013, Judge Michelle Thomason began consulting with staff of the Shelby County Veterans Treatment Court and used that Court as the model for implementation and operation of the Baldwin County Veterans Court. The Baldwin County Veterans Court held its first docket on February 24, 2014.
Many American military members have served in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and/or Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom). Noteworthy are national reports regarding the frequency of these returning veterans with diseases of mental illness and/or substance addictions. War related illnesses may contribute to escalated suicide attempts, arrests, incarceration, divorce, domestic violence, homelessness and despair. Rather than be reactionary to the anticipated increase of veterans appearing in the criminal courts, this court takes a pro-active approach whereby the court embarks on a plan to develop a specialized treatment court to meet the particularized needs of the veteran.
The Baldwin County Veterans Court (BCVC) seeks to divert eligible veteran defendants with substance dependency and/or mental illness who are charged with misdemeanor or less violent felony criminal offenses to a specialized criminal docket. The court substitutes a treatment problem-solving model for the traditional court procedure. Veterans are identified through evidence based screenings and assessments. The veterans voluntarily participate in a judicially supervised treatment plan that a team of court staff, veterans’ health care professionals, mentors and mental health professionals develop with the veteran. At regular status hearings, treatment plans and other conditions are periodically reviewed for appropriateness, incentives are offered to reward adherence to court conditions, and sanctions for non-adherence are handed down. Completion of their program is defined according to specific criteria. Veterans in the court will have their charges dismissed upon successful completion and graduation, or in the case of some felonies, their sentence will be significantly reduced.
Many veterans are known to have a warrior’s mentality and often do not address their treatment needs for physical or psychological health care. Often those who are referred to the Veterans Court are homeless, in despair, suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, and others have serious mental illnesses. Their lives are spiraling out of control. BCVC is intended to give a veteran a chance to recover and stay out of the criminal justice system. The collaboration of unique partners affords opportunities for these veterans to regain stability in their lives, to have their families strengthened, to have housing for the homeless, and to have employment for the
employable. The treatment court team will offer them assistance, assess their needs, manage their care and help them solve their problems.
Also, assisting the court team is a team of volunteer mentors that make up a Mentor Corps. The pool of veteran mentors includes those who have served in the military with many serving in Vietnam, Desert Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in court, a mentor will be assigned to meet with a veteran participant, discuss any ongoing problems or issues of interest. They work to solve problems and bring to the attention of the court any issues that the court can assist in resolving. This relationship promotes and fosters through encouragement a “can do” attitude in the veteran, that the veteran can accomplish then-goals in treatment, that the veterans are not alone and that the mentors are there for them. Before and since the court operation, the volunteer veteran mentors have not wavered in their commitment, time or dedication, despite the fact they are all volunteers and are not monetarily compensated for their time or expertise. Faithfully they are present, ready to serve at every Veterans Court Session – without reservation.
Veteran Mentor Role Description
The role of the BCVC veteran mentor is to act as a coach, guide, role model, advocate, and a support person for the individual veteran participant with whom he/she is working. Mentors understand the roles of other support team members and “fill the gap” to help keep the participant moving successfully toward completing the BCVC program.
Additionally, the mentor is a primary resource and referral provider to the participant by helping him/her with benefits, assistance and support services that are community based. The mentors are a “resource” to the veteran. Access to support services will help reduce the participant’s stress that can be caused by distractions like housing or family needs, VA benefits, educational assistance, civil legal services, Alabama State Veterans Benefits and the like.
The mentorship relationship is intended to encourage, guide, and support the veteran as he/she progresses through the court supervised treatment program. One of the most important skills the mentor will bring to the program is his/her ability to be a good listener. A very important role is for the mentor to listen to the concerns of the veteran and help that person access their needs. Mentors should avoid lecturing the participants by imposing their own values/beliefs, but should work to understand the participant’s own values/beliefs and encourage each participant to solve their own problems before they become destructive to their treatment program or probation compliance.
The mentor must be ready to offer suggestions and general guidance to the participants for any concerns they may have as they progress through the program, but it is NOT the mentor’s job to solve the problem for the participant or ACT AS A COUNSELOR. Rather, the mentor can help the participant identify resources that might be helpful and encourage the participant to do the “footwork” to get the help they need to resolve their own life’s challenges.
The mentor must be available and ready to support the veteran when he/she may feel alone, frustrated or anxious in a way only another veteran can appreciate and understand. In doing this, the mentor should maintain close contact with the VTC Mentor Coordinator and the Team Leader and keep him/her informed of significant issues the mentee may have that could derail his/her treatment program success.
Finally, the mentor should be protective of sensitive information given to him/her by the veteran or the BCVC Mentor Coordinator or Team Leader, and not reveal any information except as may be required by the court unless in a situation, where safety of the participant or another human may be a risk. In those critical situations, the mentor must make emergency contacts to prevent harm.
All mentors shall be screened and approved by the BCVC Coordinator and will be expected to assist the BCVC Mentor coordinator and Mentor Team Leader to cooperate fully with other members of the BCVC collaborative team and the participant’s treatment provider.
In order to participate as a mentor in the BCVC program, you must:
A. Be a veteran or former active duty member of one of the branches of the United States Military, including, Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, or corresponding reserve branches of the aforementioned services and members of the Reserve and National Guard.
B. Agree to follow and abide by all policies and procedures of the Baldwin County Veterans Court and its Mentoring Program.
C. Commit to the BCVC Mentoring Program for a minimum of one year.
D. Complete the Mentoring Orientation Program and any additional training that may be required by the program.
E. Not be currently on probation for the conviction of any crime (felony or misdemeanor). Have no felony or misdemeanor convictions within the past three years and be able to pass a security background check.
F. Complete and file the application form with the BCVC Mentor Coordinator and complete the screening process.
G. Understand and support the BCVC participant’s requirements, treatment plan and goals, and term and conditions of probation and assist each participant in complying to make progress and achieve success.
H. Understand the psychological war wounds from which the participant suffers and the manner in which such will present challenges to the participant’s path to success. Be able and willing to be a guiding influence toward recovery.
BCVC Veteran Mentors have the following duties and responsibilities:
A. Attend all scheduled court sessions of their veteran participant unless excused by the BCVC Mentor Coordinator or Team Leader.
B. Participate in and lead mentoring sessions with their assigned veteran, as required by the BCVC Mentor Coordinator and Team Leader.
C. Be supportive of the veteran’s treatment progress and steer him/her towards program compliance and success.
D. To the extent possible, the mentor should assist the veteran to identify ways to resolve personal and family problems that may interfere with success in the court process or treatment program. The mentor should be knowledgeable and prepared to offer available community based resources and coordinate this at all times with the Mentor Coordinator and the Team Leader to avoid interference with other aspects of the BCVC Program, specifically the counseling sessions at the VA Hospital.
E. Be supportive of other mentors in the program.
F. Be honest with the participant, BCVC team members, and the court at all times.
G. Mentors shall take immediate action to encourage the participant to contact
suicide resources including dialing 911 themselves, if there is any indication of
suicidal thoughts, attempts or plans on the part of the participant. Mentors should
keep current resource numbers on your participant at all times and ensure that they
are updated by frequent contact with the BCVC Mentor Coordinator and/or Team
Leader. The BCVC Mentor Coordinator or Team Leader shall notify the Court
Coordinator and participant’s treatment provider team representative immediately if
the mentor has any concerns that the mentee may be suicidal.
A. Will distribute cases at each court session to the mentors and abide by all duties and responsibilities of a mentor listed above.
B. Will act as the go-between for the mentor and the Court Coordinator. The Team Leader will inform the Court Coordinator of issues the mentor feels he/she should be aware of.
C. Will work closely with the Mentor Coordinator to ensure an orderly process during the court session.
D. Will assume the role of Mentor Coordinator in the absence of the Mentor Coordinator.
3. The BCVC Mentor Coordinator shall have the following duties and responsibilities:
A. Assume the major responsibilities for recruiting qualified veteran mentors.
B.Be responsible for coordinating the mentor orientation program and any specialized required training.
C.Be responsible for matching and recommending particular mentors for each eligible veteran participant in the Veterans Court program.
D.Provide all mentors with current contact information for suicide prevention resources, keep them updated, and provide frequent contacts with mentors to ensure they understand the importance of using these resources in appropriate situations.
E.Attend all court sessions and carry out any other duties assigned by the BCVC Court Coordinator or the Judge.
F.Coordinate with the Team Leader.
Volunteer Veteran Mentor Position Description
The role of the Volunteer Veteran’s Mentor is to act as a coach, a guide, a role model, an advocate, and as support for the individuals he/she is working with. A mentor is intended to encourage, guide, and support the veteran participant as he/she progresses through the court process. This will include listening to the concerns of the participant and making general suggestions, assisting the participant in determining what their needs are and acting as support for the participant at a time when they feel alone in a way that only another veteran can understand.
Duties and Responsibilities:
❖ Attend at least one out of every four monthly court sessions which occur on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. in the Courtroom of Baldwin County District Judge Michelle Thomason, Foley Satellite Courthouse. You are encouraged to be present at 1:00 p.m. to meet with mentees.
❖Participate in and lead mentoring sessions with veterans who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.
❖Be supportive and understanding of the difficulties veterans face.
❖Assist the veterans as much as possible to resolve their concerns around the court procedures as well as interactions with the Veteran’s Administration system.
❖ Be supportive and helpful to the other mentors within the program.
❖Be a veteran or active duty member of one of the branches of the United States Military, including, Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, or corresponding reserve branches of the aforementioned services and members of the Reserve or National Guard. You must have an Honorable Discharge and provide a copy of your DD214 or NGB22 stating such.
❖Adhere to all the Baldwin County Veterans Court policies and procedures.
❖Commit to participation for a minimum of one year.
❖Participate in additional training throughout time of service.
❖Go through our vetting process (including police background check).
❖Encouraging and supportive
❖Tolerant and respectful of individual differences.
Mentor Coordinator Nick Shoultz
Baldwin County Veterans Court
201 East Section Street
Foley, AL 36535
or bring your paperwork and join us in Court on Tuesday at 1300 hrs to meet the Mentor Team before the Court session actually starts at 13:30 hrs.
To learn more about being a Mentor in the Baldwin County Veterans Court Program, contact the Veterans Court Mentor Coordinator Nick Shoultz; 251-455-7319