MORRIS – A group of Grundy County officials is working to add a veteran’s component to the county’s prison diversion programs, with the aim that veterans struggling with trauma and other untreated problems aren’t swallowed up by the criminal justice system.
Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland, Veteran’s Assistance Commission Superintendent Ken Buck, problem-solving court case manger Mitch Conwell and representatives from the office of Veteran’s Affairs met last week to discuss adding a veteran’s track to the county’s drug and mental health court programming.
The new veteran’s track would link services and foster communication between Buck, the state’s attorney’s office and local VA health clinics.
The group of stakeholders will work together so veterans in the criminal justice system are being treated and provided the services they need to reintegrate into society.
“Sometimes, they’re not being treated for their PTSD, or even sometimes it’s a physical ailment that leads veterans to turn to alcohol or substance abuse. And then, they end up in the criminal justice system,” Buck said Monday. “If they can be treated for those problems, then sometimes it can keep them out of jail.”
Helland said some veterans are in denial about their substance issues and could benefit from a mentor like Buck, or another veteran at the VAC, to start them on a path toward recovery.
The veterans services will be offered to all local veterans, but will be targeted at the some of the most-vulnerable service men and women, including those who were dishonorably discharged and no longer receive benefits through the office of Veterans Affairs.
“A lot of times, the people who need the most help are the people who were dishonorably discharged,” Helland said Monday. “We still need to make them a productive member of the community and link them to services.”
As of now, Helland said his office has identified one local veteran who would benefit from veteran court programming. That number is projected to increase, however, because of the multi-deployments in recent wars, Helland said.
“When these individuals came back from overseas, they may not have shown symptoms immediately,” Helland said. “But the experts that I’ve talked to believe the number of justice-related veterans will increase over the next few years.”
Because of Grundy County’s comparatively low population of veterans, Helland said they have opted to create a veteran’s track as opposed to creating a brand-new veteran’s court, like many other Illinois counties have done.
Grundy County’s prison-diversion, problem-solving courts include the existing drug court program and the forthcoming mental health court program.
Grundy’s mental health court was scheduled to begin July 1, once it received an annual appropriation of more than $100,000 from Illinois Adult Redeploy. Recently, officials were notified that the program was shelved indefinitely due to a delay in funding.
Funding could be reconsidered by the Illinois General Assembly during the fall veto session.
In the meantime, local officials will begin organizing the veteran’s services so they can begin providing help immediately, if possible.
“If it’s within my power to help keep veterans out jail, I’m going to do whatever I can to keep them out of jail,” Buck said.