AP NEWS

Liberty County commissioner’s okay veteran’s program

August 30, 2018

At zero nine fifty-one (09:51), Tuesday, Aug. 28, Liberty County Commissioners passed a resolution establishing a Veteran’s Treatment Court.

One veteran, present for the event, couldn’t help but hold his cell phone up over his head and take a photo of commissioners as they voted.

The program allows county commissioners courts throughout Texas to authorize a specialized court where veterans are removed from the penal system and given increased access to mental health and addictions treatment by diverting them directly into a VA treatment program, which would in turn reduce jail time, costs and criminal recidivism in the judicial system.

The program is designed to help improve mental health recovery for treated vets and a better blending into society. The program is expected to get underway soon.

“What an honor it’s been to travel back and forth out to Liberty over the past year-and-a-half to meet with folks and pray over this,” said Spencer Walker.

The Iraqi Freedom combat veteran has poured a lot of himself into the process to honor his fellow comrades with a court that will help meet their needs.

For 18 months, he has worked alongside former Pct. 5 Judge Marvin Powell to make the court happen. It did unanimously.

“It’s something the whole court was solidly in favor of and we think it’s a great thing to have in Liberty County,” said Commissioner Greg Arthur outside on the court steps.

There were a lot of congratulations and back-patting for the celebrated program and to provide something of significance to those who served the nation.

“On behalf of the Liberty County attorney’s office, the district attorney’s office, and our three judges, I know that everyone fully supports this program and we’re excited to see what it can do for Liberty County veterans,” said County Attorney Matthew Poston.

The cost to taxpayers?

“Zero. This is funded in a large part and the services are already available through the VA. This helps expedite putting veterans in touch with these programs,” Poston said.

There are also grants available to help cover any additional expenses.

“We hope that they can heal from the trauma they’ve suffered while in service and avoid lasting legal consequences,” Poston said.

The cog in the wheel for pushing the program was Powell. Powell served three terms in the military and was emotional about the passage of the program.

“I am one of them,” he said. “I am a Vietnam veteran.”

Severely wounded in Vietnam, Powell spent 14 months in Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio recuperating.

“This is dear to my heart,” he said as he choked up.

“This will give veterans a new start because of what they’re having to suffer through. It will also help their family and help restore the vet to being whole again,” he said.

Through the court, the veteran is not incarcerated while they go through the program which, as Powell points out, also saves the county money.

“It helps them while they’re out of jail to go through the program. At the end of the program the charges are dismissed,” he said.

In addition, through civil court, the vet can have the charges expunged from their record.

Mark Norris, of Veterans Justice Outreach, said it was not a get-out-of-jail free card.

“The veteran who participates in the court is expected to be compliant with the treatment component of the court. And, they must show up for the court dockets. There is a supervisor whether it’s for pre-trial or for probation,” he said.

Norris said they work with the veteran to mitigate their legal circumstances and help to get them reestablished in the community.

Norris said he’s seen clients who were facing 20 years in the penitentiary, but through the court, successfully completed the program and moved on to become productive members of society.”

“It could have gone either way,” he said.

The Honorable Judge Mark Morefield volunteered to head the court and is a veteran himself, having served 13 months in Vietnam. Powell will step out of retirement to be the coordinator for the court.

“I joined the Army in ’69 and received orders to go to Vietnam in ’70,” the judge said.

The war experience was life-changing for the young fighter.

“You grow up fast in a war zone,” he said.

The Veterans Treatment Court is also close to his heart.

“Judge Powell and I have been talking about this for 18 months and I’m acutely aware of the need to do something for not every veteran. When we’re talking about veteran’s court, we’re talking about a criminal setting,” he said.

“Veterans,” he said, “by virtue of service to our country have been in traumatic experiences that altered their thinking and may have precipitated the reason why they find themselves in criminal court.

We have an obligation to them and recognize them.”

Morefield wouldn’t demonize the veterans by calling post-traumatic stress a disorder.

“When you look at these guys and what they went through in Iraq and Afghanistan, they came back a totally different person,” he said.

It changed a 19-year-old wide-eyed Morefield.

“I came back to a different world,” he said of his return to the states. He felt like he no longer fit in.

“All I wanted when I came back was to go back to Vietnam to something I understood.”

It’s something that Spencer Walker can relate to in his own life.

Living life big, he was banking bucks and headed to a big career in oil and gas.

He’s given it all up for much less pay and purpose in life.

“It’s definitely more of a ministry and a calling. That’s where passion comes from,” he said.

Walker said his life was a train wreck and regardless how much money he was making, it made no difference if he was living a life at the end of a bottle.

Walker knows he could still be wearing an orange jump suit or lying in a cemetery had it not been for his VTC intervention.

“Veterans Treatment Court saved my life, my sanity, my marriage and gave me an opportunity to be a father and restore my faith,” the veteran said humbly.

There are now more than 40 Veteran Treatment Courts in the state of Texas.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly