By Julie Wiessner
Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon has been working with Superior Court Judge Robert Higgins to lay the foundation for a Veteran’s Court, which should be ready for use in April.
According to Carlyon, the court system is not set up to accommodate veterans who may have returned from battle facing difficult struggles.
“Veterans who have seen combat need extra support. Many have turned to drugs and alcohol to assuage their experiences,” stated Carlyon, indicating that such coping mechanisms can lead to bigger problems. “Some vets are trying to deal with this on their own and may be unaware of services available to them.”
Judge Higgins “has seen the effectiveness of a rehabilitation court and is working to include one here in Navajo County. He will be one of the judges that meets with a collaborative team of people with the goal to help the individuals in there. There will be a judge, a prosecutor, the public defender who runs the process, a probation officer and we will need a representative of the veterans community,” said Carlyon.
“We need to meet with the VA people in Phoenix and get good buy-in from them, and then begin identifying those who have served in the armed forces in order to make these resources available to them.
“Many times, veterans are not aware they can receive help from the Veterans Administration. Actually, the VA Clinic in Show Low provides some services now, however they need a broader base in order to provide more services. The VA is actually in a Catch-22 situation, meaning they can provide many services, but must show a broader need of those serv-ices. The Veteran’s Court should be able to provide the broader base of people showing need in order to bring more services to the area,” continued Carlyon.
“Most criminal justice courts use punishment as a means to break the cycle of criminal activity, but are not addressing the underlying mental health issues associated with returning veterans.
“Veteran’s Court is designed to rehabilitate instead of punish only, because these veterans are suffering from a range of afflictions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
At this time, Maricopa County is the only one in the state with a Veteran’s Court.
“They do have more resources to work with in an urban setting than are available to us in our area. We have to be more creative in this rural environment,” noted Carlyon.
Right now, Carlyon and Higgins are reaching out to other service providers in the area for assistance in creating this new program. They are also working on a plan to “get some of the money diverted from alcohol taxes to assist in paying for these services,” according to Carlyon.
The public can show support for this program by donating small gifts that would help with the positive reinforcement aspect, encouraging veterans to continue to do well. Other veterans can help by coming alongside the recently returning veterans, offering, perhaps, an understanding ear.
By Julie Wiessner