Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Courts, Communities Connect Veterans with Treatment

Leaders in Ohio’s legal system are on a mission to help military veterans struggling with trauma.

Supreme Court of Ohio Chief Justice-Elect Sharon Kennedy is an advocate and leader promoting the Lean Forward Initiative. The project is a collaboration among courts and treatment providers to improve the care and services for veterans involved with the justice system. The incoming chief justice recently hosted a summit dedicated to the healing and recovery of former service members. Justice Kennedy, as a former police officer, understands the call to service, which inspired her to take on the issues of justice-involved veterans when she was first elected.

“So many of our veterans come home unable to reacclimate to civilian life,” said Justice Kennedy. “While they struggle alone and suffer alone, they self-medicate their untreated trauma.”

Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury who turn to drugs or alcohol can make bad decisions because of impaired thoughts and judgments. These land some in criminal courts. The initiative’s goal is to help courts and communities identify the affected veterans and provide tailored support through the treatment court model. These specialized dockets hold offenders accountable while also addressing the underlying causes of the criminal behavior.

Raising awareness has helped the program expand over the last decade from six Supreme Court certified veterans courts to 29, today.

“The courts work with the local Veterans Affairs office to get each person the services they need,” said retired Justice Evelyn Stratton. “So a veteran doesn’t have to worry about housing or other essentials, and they can focus on their treatment.”

In addition, retired Justice Stratton also helped start nationally the Veterans Justice Outreach specialist program (VJO), which assigns a VJO to every county in a VA hospital footprint, whose role is to assist the court-involved veteran connect with VA programs, a vitally important service, especially in smaller counties that have a lack of resources.

Medical experts take an evidence-based approach to treating veterans struggling with mental health and substance use. Court staff is educated about trauma, and they work with treatment providers to reinforce proven therapies so a veteran can cope with stressful situations and avoid detrimental behavior.

“This allows someone to move forward by realizing whatever happened to them does not have to control their life,” said Dr. Kate Chard, the PTSD Director for the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Retired U.S. Army Reservist Ed Newton credits therapy for helping him stabilize his life, and now he’s helping fellow veterans do the same. He’s a resiliency officer for the Hancock County Veterans Services Office and supports former service members in the justice system and other veterans through various community programs. His recent introduction to Lean Forward has given him many new ideas on how to improve the lives of military friends and peers.

“A connection like this brings so much opportunity to help veterans and their families even more,” said Newton.

He’s the latest recruit in a statewide operation dedicated to those who served the country and are continuing the sacred military vow to leave no one behind.

“We can make a difference. We can help veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war come wholly home,” said Justice Kennedy.

Justice Kennedy has advised her planning group that she wants them to start planning the Ninth Veterans Conference for next year and to work on the next theme.