XENIA — Greene County will now have a special veterans’ treatment court.
A historical first in the county, the specialized court will assist veterans in the criminal justice system. The court, like others across the state, will emphasize treatment rather than punishment.
Local officials and community members gathered in a courtroom Nov. 3 for the opening ceremony of the Greene County Common Pleas veterans’ treatment court.
“If there’s ever a group of people that deserve a second chance, deserve the support from their country for the rest of their lives, it’s our veterans,” Greene County Commissioner Tom Koogler, a U.S. Navy veteran, said.
According to Judge Stephen Wolaver, a discharged veteran who is charged with a crime will go through criteria set forth by the court to determine eligibility into the program.
“This is a special opportunity for people who served the country … ” Wolaver said. “We hope that we can utilize all of our resources to ensure their success …. and hopefully to put the issues behind them or be able to manage the issues that brought them here in the first place so that they can go on to live productive lives.”
Wolaver said the hands-on approach in the program will focus on tailoring treatment to the individual person. For example, the judge would take into consideration various factors of the person, including service-related disabilities like PTSD, he explained.
“Veterans come here from their service with mental and physical disabilities that can alter their behavior and cause them to fall into the criminal justice system. They see things and are exposed to situations that no human is equipped for without help … ” Colonel Bud May, USAF (Ret.), president of Greene County Veteran Services Commission, said.
One significant difference between a specialized court and traditional probation is how often the judge sees the defendant. This program will allow veterans to meet with the judge on a regular basis, whether that means twice a month or more or less, depending on the needs and progress of the person.
“I get to monitor their progress; I can talk to them about their ups and downs, and do so in a manner that is productive for them and hopefully to let them see that the judge shows interest in them … ” Wolaver said. “Veterans understand the chain of command — I’m kind of the commander in chief in this situation — so they see that and hopefully that also helps motivate them to try to do better.”
Wolaver said his vision of a veterans’ court means the judge talks with the veteran, not to the veteran. An approach, he said, that is a more positive one than what is traditionally found in the criminal justice system.
This veterans’ court has been in the process of creation for nearly three years, involving law enforcement, local agencies, legal offices, veterans’ services, treatment and health organizations and more. Wolaver, who has been a judge for 15 years, said he’s expecting the Ohio Supreme Court to issue a formal certification in the near future.
“We’ve never done this before,” he said. “To me it is very exciting because I’m going into uncharted territory.”
Contact Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498.