A year of success for Veterans Treatment Court

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by Brooke Hasch

WHAS11.com

Posted on February 10, 2014 at 7:34 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 10 at 9:24 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- It’s estimated nearly one in four soldiers returning home from war suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury.
 
Some will get help, but others will find themselves in the criminal justice system.
 
For more than a year, the Veterans Treatment Court in Jefferson County has given incarcerated veterans a second chance, wiping their slate clean in just 18 months, but it doesn’t come easy.
 
William Morris spent 25 years in the military, served three tours in Iraq.
 
"After I came back the first time, I wasn't normal. I didn't know what was wrong with me but there was some definite issues," Morris said.
 
Morris threw himself into combat for years, as his internal wartime scars challenged him over and over again.
 
“Loud noises, I'd fall down, panic,” Morris said.
 
He was suffering from PTSD.
 
“I'd see something on the side of the road and it would remind me of an IED, and I'd black out," Morris said.
 
Morris even opened up about the night he pulled a gun on his young daughter.
 
"I pulled my 9-millimeter on her a couple times, when she came in to wake us up," Morris said.
 
But like many of his fellow comrades, he denied the illness until he hit rock bottom.
 
'It was so bad, that on several occasions, I tried to end my life," Morris said. "I didn't want to wake up.”
 
On several occasions, Morris woke up in jail, charged with assault.
 
"I would feel threatened and automatically, the military training would take over," Morris said.
 
It was during his last arraignment, when a member of the Veterans Affairs offered Morris a chance to join the Veterans Treatment Court in Jefferson County.
 
"The VA has an outreach team that goes into the jail system and talks to veterans that have certain types of charges and they give them an opportunity to get involved with Veterans Drug Court. It's like a second chance," Tim White, the program director at Interlink Counseling, in Louisville said.
 
District Court Judge David Holton spearheaded the program in Jefferson County, home to the largest veteran population in the Commonwealth. His Veterans Treatment Court was the first of its kind in Kentucky when it began in Dec. 2012. It’s become so successful; courtrooms across Kentuckiana have developed their own system, Floyd County, Ind. included.
 
"When I went to jail, that was an awakening for me," Chris Bunch, an Iraq War veteran, from Floyd County said.
 
Bunch was serving a 6-month sentence behind bars for disorderly conduct and intimidation when the VA approached him.
 
"I was in jail and they came and found me," Bunch said.
 
"We believe that because of the service these men and women gave to our country, in defending our freedom and preserving liberty, to reach out to them and rebuild them to what they were before war is just the right thing to do," Holton said.
 
Holton stressed this is not a get-out-of-jail free card. The program includes weekly court appearances, curfews, community service, frequent drug screenings, drug or alcohol abuse treatment and daily group therapy. Many veterans complete these programs through Interlink Counseling.
 
"I've seen guys start feeling like there is hope. Reconnect with their family members, obtain gainful employment," White said.
 
White says 90 percent of his clients are veterans, mentored by other veterans who’ve gone through the same experiences.
 
“They just need to know that people care," White said.
 
"I know I'm in the right place and getting taken care of," Bunch said.
 
Bunch says his goals are clear.
 
"Sobriety, knowledge to be able to cope with my triggers, my setbacks," Bunch said.
 
It’s working.
 
“I’m really proud of them. Getting some great results from guys coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD and they're getting their lives in order and that's what the program is supposed to do," Holton said.
 
Morris was the third veteran who joined Holton’s program.
 
"To me, it was a no-brainer. I had the opportunity to get better, have that expedited, as opposed to sitting in some place and wasting away for six months to a year," Morris said.
 
He will complete his 18-month treatment this spring. When he’s not in therapy, he’s working maintenance at the VA Hospital, in Louisville.
 
"Being able to see somebody that's been in WWII, Vietnam, Korea and know they went through the same thing you went through, it's very comforting, at least for myself," Morris said.
 
It’s part of his Compensated Work Therapy (CWT), where he receives minimum wage. He hopes to continue work at the hospital after graduating from the program.
 
"You're looking at somebody who would've been living on the street, homeless, unemployed and a chronic alcoholic. I don't see anything good coming out of that as opposed to what this program has given me," Morris said. “I won't say that my life has taken a 180, but it's close to it.”
 
The Veterans Treatment Court welcomes all veterans, with the exception to those who have criminal backgrounds including violent felonies or sexual crimes of any kind.

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