Adams County Court for Veterans A Probation Alternative for Those Who Served, 1119 COBJ, Vol. 48, No. 10 Pg. 14

Position:Vol. 48, 10 [Page 14]

48 Colo.Law. 14

Adams County Court for Veterans: A Probation Alternative for Those Who Served

Vol. 48, No. 10 [Page 14]

Colorado Lawyer

November, 2019



The things they carried were largely determined by necessity . . . can openers, pocket-knives, [and] . . . chewing gum. Because you could die so quickly, each man carried at least one large compression bandage. . . . And each carried a green plastic poncho. . . . In April, for instance when Ted Lavender was shot, they used his poncho to wrap him up, then to carry him across the paddy, then lift him to the chopper that took him away.”[1]

We owe those who served our country a debt we cannot repay, for the things they carried and, for some, the things they carried home with them. This article discusses the genesis and work of the Adams County Court for Veterans (ACCV), formed specifically to serve those who served.

The Genesis

A large percentage of our veterans return home and transition back into productive, strong, and vital members of their communities. Indeed, on balance, veterans are more likely to be homeowners, own businesses, and vote than the general population.[2] But some veterans struggle when they return home. They may suffer from devastating injuries both seen-lost limbs or other physical injuries-and unseen-post-traumatic stress (PTS), traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression and anxiety, moral injuries, and substance use. In struggling with their injuries and acute traumas, a small portion of these veterans wind up in the criminal justice system.

It is against this backdrop that, in 2013, I learned that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was using social workers to identify veterans serving jail time in an attempt to provide them additional services and treatment opportunities. As a trial judge, I knew we could do better for our veterans than simply sentencing them to jail. And intervention and treatment, as opposed to jail time, made sense. After all, we owe a great debt to our veterans, who have sacrificed so much to serve. This is where the ACCV journey began.

Getting Going

The Seventeenth Judicial District already had progressive, evidence-based specialty courts, including a drug treatment court. So, when approached about the formation of a specialty court with the express mission of treating veterans, then Chief Judge C. Vincent Phelps not only authorized the new court, but strongly supported it.

While hard data on the scope of the need was hard to come by, no one doubted the need was there. To get going, we examined the 10 key components developed by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, and later modified for veteran treatment courts.3 As modified, these key components are

1. integration of alcohol, drug, and mental health services;

2. a non-adversarial approach;

3. early identification of and prompt placement of participants;

4. access to a continuum of treatment;

5. monitored substance abstinence;

6. coordinated responses to participants' compliance;

7. ongoing individualized interactions;

8. evaluation to measure effectiveness of programming;

9. interdisciplinary education addressing planning, implementation, and operations; and

10. forging partnerships with VA agencies (public and private) and community-based organizations.[4]

With the key components identified, we spent the next 13 months building the program. This included forming a team, recruiting volunteers, devising protocols, and creating appropriate programs, all coordinated by Tasha Buettenback...

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