Submitted by Judge Lisa H. Mansfield.
Since 2016, Lakewood Municipal Court has been proudly hosting Veteran’s Treatment Court.
Built from a grant funded by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) and JusticeForVets.org, Veteran’s Treatment Court, also known as “Vet Court” is a therapeutic court which serves court involved Veterans in the Lakewood community.
Part of what makes Vet Court so special is that it provides individualized attention for every participating Vet as well as focused support and case management. Vet Court is linked to the VA and it can help Vets navigate the system to seek the best care. Because Vet Court adopts a team approach to give tailored service and support each Vet, the court proceedings are collaborative and non-adversarial in nature.
The Vet Court team is a group of court professionals dedicated to uplifting our Vets to re-integrate safely into the community and become productive citizens who are much less likely to re-enter the court system again. Our team is comprised of the Lakewood Municipal Court Judge, the prosecutor, a defense attorney, the court administrator, a Vet Court Coordinator who also serves as probation, a Veteran’s Administration representative and of course, the Vets themselves.
Vet Court has amazing community partnerships! A group of volunteer mentors who are also veterans work with the Vets on our team to give additional peer support. Vet Court also works with community organizations such as the American Lake Golf course to provide volunteer opportunities to our Vets. Once a month, a mobile unit outfitted to specifically address the needs of Veterans parks outside of Lakewood Municipal Court. This office on wheels, staffed by Larry Turk, Veterans Officer at the Pierce County Veterans Assistance Program offers assistance to Vets such as housing referrals, substance abuse education and treatment referrals and many other supports that Vet Court members as well as any other Vet can take advantage of.
A great way to understand more about Vet Court is to hear from the Vet Court Team. Court Administrator Deana Wright says:
“The connection to our Veterans is real, the care for them is deep and I am so proud of our Veterans and the treatment court we’ve created over the years! The stakeholders who invest their time, commitment and resources to our Veterans is astounding. I think all of us involved in Veteran’s Treatment Court have been impacted emotionally in ways we never expected. I hope Veterans Court continues to grow so we may assist our future Veterans in getting the help they so greatly deserve.”
The Vet Court prosecutor, Samantha Johnson says:
“As a prosecutor, I often am unable to learn about the person I have charged with a crime. I don’t get to know their life story, their daily struggles, or their aspirations. Veteran’s Court has changed all of that. The team talks about the Vet’s life and supports them through their recovery. Vet Court is transforming lives. It is a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
Perhaps the best way to understand the positive impact of Vet Court is to hear from a participant. Recent Vet Court graduate, Jeffrey Haas writes:
“While I was a member of Vet Court in the City of Lakewood, I found a backbone, a family. Not just with their support but DIRECTLY because of Vet Court, I finally have a VA disability compensation for combat injuries and PTSD. I didn’t want to leave after I graduated, I’ve been going back every month and I still talk to my mentor and Probation weekly. I still call into my weekly treatment groups because I made so many good friends, real friends in my treatment circle that saying goodbye is just not something I will do anytime soon.
“I have a support channel and I have multiple people I can call anytime of any day. I was about halfway through Vet Court when I realized it stopped being a court date, and it became the place I went when I needed to reach out to people whom I could speak to candidly and immediately feel connected with. Because of Vet Court, I have my life back.”
Vet Court at Lakewood Municipal Court is open to the public and meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 2:00 pm. Often, the Vet Court team shares light refreshments with the Vets after court. Please join us for the next Vet Court on April 13, 2022 at 2:00 pm in Lakewood Municipal Court, located at 6000 Main Street SW, Lakewood, WA 98499. Find out more on the City of Lakewood website firstname.lastname@example.org.