JoCo Treatment Court helps military vets turn their lives around

Bill Grady
March 28, 2019 - 7:30 am

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There were no caps and gowns, but some men are celebrating graduation after a ceremony in Olathe.

Veterans Treatment Court launced in 2016. It allows former military members who have found themselves in the criminal justice system a chance to enter a diversion program, if their offenses are service-related.

The alternative is more jail time.

A recent graduate of the program is Steven Matthews, 47, a combat veteran who served in the Marine Corps, Navy and Army. He said he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder when he became involved in  domestic violence.

"The young lady I was dating at the time tried to pull me back into the house," Matthews said. "I left and got in my vehicle, and then she opened my car door. I pushed her out of the door and she fell and hit her kneecap."

Drugs and alcohol were not an issue for Matthews, as they are for many people in Treatment Court.

"To look at myself in the mirror and have that orange jumpsuit on, and have a number now, I knew that this is not where I wanted to be," Matthews said. "I was offered the opportunity to do this diversion opportunity. They saw something in me that maybe I didn't see in myself."

Veterans who are accepted in the program agree to up to 18 months of court appearances, undergo drug testing, attend support meetings and adopt a mentor.

Evan Zimmerman, 31, served in the Marines. He suffered from PTSD, which led him to turn to drugs, theft and other crimes.

"When I was trying to use a needle to shoot up drugs, and I couldn't find a spot to get it into my vein, I spent probably two hours trying to do this, and I remember thinking to myself, what the heck am I doing?" Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman credits the Treatment Court for helping him turn his life around. He has a good job and spends more time with his loved ones, including his two-year-old daugher.

"I plan to go back to school for either substance abuse counseling or a history teacher, I haven't decided yet," Zimmerman said.

So far 25 offenders have completed all of the requirements to graduate from Johnson County's Veterans Treatment Court.

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