Kansas' First Veterans Treatment Court Convenes In Johnson County

Mar 4, 2016

Kansas’ first Veterans Treatment Court went into session in the Johnson County Courthouse on January 13, making the state the 41st in the nation to start such a program. 

The court provides veteran offenders a diversion track through the Johnson County District Attorney’s office and a probation track offered through Johnson County District Court Services. They also link veterans with programs, benefits and services for which they are eligible.

Court officials pay special attention to conditions that may have risen as a result of active military service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, depression, and substance abuse.

The Veteran’s Treatment Court was spearheaded by Judge Timothy McCarthy of the 10th Judicial District of Kansas. In order for a veteran to be eligible for the court, their felony must be a level 4 or lower.

Everyone arrested in Johnson County is asked if they served in the military and veterans are advised on how they can apply for the court. Still, Dion Sankar with Jackson County's veteran court says it is a rigorous program that not everyone will choose.

“This is not the easy path out,” Sankar explained on KCUR’s Up To Date. “The person is supervised in some instances more heavily than they would be if they were on probation.”

The program lasts over a year and includes frequent court appearances, drug and alcohol testing two times per week and a mentor program with another veteran, among other requirements.

“I’m a resource for [the veterans] within the community,” said Andrew Jones, who is a mentor in the Johnson County Veterans’ Treatment Court in addition to his day job with the Kansas Department of Commerce.

“A perfect example is one of the young men we were working with was struggling with transportation and we were able to help him navigate public transportation here in Kansas City," Jones said.

The first Veterans Treatment Court was founded by Judge Robert Russell in Buffalo, New York, in 2008, after he noticed an increase in the number of veterans appearing on his Drug Court and Mental Health Court dockets.

The court website likens procedures to the structure veterans experience during their service.

"The judge becomes the Commanding Officer, the Veteran Mentors become fire team leaders, the court team becomes the company staff, and the veteran defendants become the troops."

Judge Timothy McCarthy was trained in the in the ways of the court alongside a team of 14 people, including an additional judge, two prosecutors and two public defenders.

By July, McCarthy expects to work with hundreds of veterans and seems optimistic as to the results that will come out of the Veterans’ Treatment Court programs. 

"It’s a lot more than they would do in a diversion or a probation normally," McCarthy said. 

Kyle J Smith is an intern with the KCUR's digital team. You can find him on Twitter @kjs_37