Watch now: Lancaster County Veterans Treatment Court Helps Veterans Get Back on Track

Watch now: Lancaster County Veterans Treatment Court Helps Veterans Get Back on Track

In a third-floor courtroom on a recent Wednesday, a group chatted like old friends as they waited for the judge to come in.

The American Flag and U.S. Armed Forces flags behind the bench hinted this wasn't a typical court hearing. So did the tray of baked goods for the gallery.

Retired District Judge John Colborn came in smiling and led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance to start the week's Lancaster County Veterans Treatment Court, which this month reached the five-year anniversary of its inaugural ceremony.

Since then, the court has graduated 18 veterans who had gotten into scrapes with the law, were looking at potential jail or prison time but were diverted to the problem-solving court meant to help them get back on track.

So far, only one has been convicted on a new charge. A second, the first to graduate from the program, has a pending felony case.

Ten others currently are working their way through, among them Marines, Army and Navy veterans, according to Mindy Millan-Groves, the coordinator.

This year, the veterans court and Lancaster County Adult Drug Court were both chosen by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and U.S. Department of Justice to serve as national mentor treatment courts to help new and growing treatment courts.

“This program is a shining example of serving those who have served us and ensuring our military veterans and service members receive the treatment and benefits they have earned," said Carolyn Hardin, NADCP chief of training and research. "As a mentor court, this program is helping to transform our justice system and leading veterans who might otherwise be incarcerated into lives of hope and healing.”

On a Wednesday in late March, Brian, Joey, Ted, Danny and Mike all took turns in the hot seat, sitting beside their veteran mentors, to tell the judge about their week. Therapy meetings they'd gone to through the VA. Group sessions they'd attended to help with their sobriety. How things were going at home.

"We cut the umbilical cord on the wake-up text," Brian's mentor said, prompting laughter.

When it was Danny Warbonnett Sr.'s turn, the judge asked how he was.

"Well, I'm still alive," he said.

"Let's talk about the bad first," Colborn said next. "I hear your son was stabbed."

Warbonnett Sr., who is 56 and landed in court for driving despite his license being revoked for 15 years, said his son was still in the hospital, and it's been a struggle. After he found out, he rushed to the hospital and it took forever to get to see him. But his mentor, Jordan, reached out, and Bob Hurley, a Lincoln Police investigator who volunteers at veterans court, came to the hospital and helped him find his son.

"I could not be more grateful for what the vets court has given me," he told the judge. "I think without that being there, something would've went wrong and gone off track quick. But I found my strength through all this."

Colburn said he relied on all those things there to support him and didn't turn to alcohol.

"I'm proud of you for that," he said.

A bit later, Colborn asked John Hansen, who is 65 and got in trouble for driving on a revoked license, too, how he was doing with quitting smoking.

He was down to a half pack from two packs a day.

The judge called it a step in the right direction, then asked about his sobriety.

"It'll be nine months on the third of May," Hansen said, to the gallery's supportive applause. "All I have to do is not drink one day at a time."

He said things are looking a lot better than they were a year ago.

"My mental health has improved 100%," he said.

At a graduation March 22, Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac said he saw the night's event as a celebration of three individuals who had made choices, including one to swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and, for one in the Army National Guard, to protect the Constitution of Nebraska as well.

It brought to them values and ways of thinking about life and serving others, he said.

"But somewhere along that journey of life, they strayed from those things," Bohac said. "Yet here we are tonight to celebrate their return. A return to the fold of the brotherhood and the sisterhood of the United States Armed Forces."

Jim Cada, a Vietnam veteran and veteran advocate who helped get the court started here, said the process "is strict and intense, and it's designed to bring about change or redirection of a veteran to follow a better path to freedom from criminal activities and to a more fulfilling life."

It's not easy, he said. There are many classes and testing, checks and balances and constant oversight at the beginning, which may be difficult for many.

"Some come into this treatment court with suspicion, some come in with reluctance, doubt and caution and may not even have a desire to change," Cada said. "But I'm proud to be a small part of this significant program to help veterans that have been put in harm's way, that have had their lives altered during their military service in ways that for many are not completely understood."

He said the graduates — Dustin Hansen, Johnathan Pfeifer and Amanda Rohren — had been given the tools to heal from past trauma or PTSD and be the person that they want to be.

It brought to them values and ways of thinking about life and serving others, he said.

"But somewhere along that journey of life, they strayed from those things," Bohac said. "Yet here we are tonight to celebrate their return. A return to the fold of the brotherhood and the sisterhood of the United States Armed Forces."

Jim Cada, a Vietnam veteran and veteran advocate who helped get the court started here, said the process "is strict and intense, and it's designed to bring about change or redirection of a veteran to follow a better path to freedom from criminal activities and to a more fulfilling life."

It's not easy, he said. There are many classes and testing, checks and balances and constant oversight at the beginning, which may be difficult for many.

"Some come into this treatment court with suspicion, some come in with reluctance, doubt and caution and may not even have a desire to change," Cada said. "But I'm proud to be a small part of this significant program to help veterans that have been put in harm's way, that have had their lives altered during their military service in ways that for many are not completely understood."

He said the graduates — Dustin Hansen, Johnathan Pfeifer and Amanda Rohren — had been given the tools to heal from past trauma or PTSD and be the person that they want to be.

Source: https://journalstar.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/watch-now-i-needed-this-program-lancaster-county-veterans-treatment-court-helps-local-veterans-get/article_36b7dbd4-817d-5be7-ab4f-e5b120e7dae2.html