14th Judicial District Veterans Court Program

14th Judicial District Veterans Court Program Graduation

On Dec. 14, in front of a crowd of friends, families, and supporters, six Veterans testified about how this specialty court gave them a second chance at life. The 14th Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court Program Graduation, held at the Lake City Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., was incredibly moving and proved that we are all worthy of second chances.

Judge David A. Ritchie, who is a Louisiana Army National Guard Veteran, has been involved with this program for two years and said it’s “so much more than I ever hoped for.” “This is truly a special program that we are honored to be a part of,” he told the crowd as he welcomed them to a very unique graduation.

The 14th Judicial Veterans Treatment Court is a joint endeavor between the judges of the 14th Judicial Court and Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier. The Honorable David A. Ritchie and the Honorable Sharon Wilson are the presiding judges over Veterans Treatment Court and was founded by these two judges and Mr. DeRosier in January of 2016.

The purpose of the special court is to help veterans, in the criminal justice system, obtain the needed resources to once again lead productive lives. The court offers rehabilitation, employment, housing, food and other needs, while helping them resolve their criminal charges. Veterans are placed with a “battle buddy,” who is a veteran from within the community, throughout the program to act as an accountability partner for each individual.

Judge Sharon D. Wilson gleamed as she addressed the graduates, saying “Tonight, I am a very proud mama.” She was very happy that two graduates had no sanctions. “It is an honor and a privilege to be on this journey with you all on this truly transformative experience.”

The Veterans Treatment Court also includes The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, The Public Defender’s Office, Veteran mentors, the Veterans Service Office and the Veteran Justice Outreach. The team went though on-site training in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who has one of the largest and oldest Veterans Courts in the country.

According to Carla S. Sigler, Veterans Court Coordinator and Assistant District Attorney, Lake Charles is home to the largest vet court program in State of Louisiana. “We have a very robust program with lots of mentors so that each Veteran can have one assigned to them.”

It was clear from the personal stories that were shared that these Veterans truly appreciated the opportunity to get their lives back on track and to give back to vets that are struggling.

Terri Schuyler, a talented artist and Navy Veteran, said that Veterans Court “saved my life and got me my family back.” Her mother and three beautiful daughters were there to cheer her on as she gave an emotional testimony.  “I was at the worst place in my life before I entered this program,” she said after sharing her experiences. “This has given me confidence again.”

District Attorney John F. DeRossier, who is a Marine Veteran, thanked all of the vets who put in the hard work and graduated that evening.  “These programs make life better for the people in these communities.”

There are stipulations on what kinds of offenders are eligible for Veterans Treatment Court. Cases involving sexual crimes and/or homicide are not candidates for the program.

By legislation, these are the specific goals of the Veterans Treatment Court:

  1. To reduce drug abuse and alcoholism and dependency among offenders
  2. To reduce the alcohol and drug-related workload of the courts
  3. To reduce criminal recidivism
  4. To diagnose undiagnosed mental health problems and to assist in the care and treatment of diagnosed mental health illnesses
  5. To increase the personal, familial, and societal accountability of offenders
  6. To reduce prison overcrowding
  7. To provide employment and job training for veterans in partnership with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, any technical college or vocational school, or other institute of higher learning
  8. To provide housing assistance for homeless veterans in partnership with state, local and federal housing authorities and nonprofit organizations
  9. To provide benefits counseling from parish service officers in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Veterans that choose to participate in the program come out with more tools to help them cope, a stronger support system, and a second chance to get it right.

As Army Veteran Randall Laird explained, “I know what it is like to just be a number in the system.” He candidly spoke of his time in jail after an accident led to the death of the love of his life, Molly Frank. They used to train PTSD service dogs together. “You can’t get help or therapy in jail,” he said after sharing that he hit rock bottom after her death. “This program saved me.”

In the two years it took for Laird to get sober and complete the Veterans Court program, he founded the Molly Frank Foundation. “I’m now continuing with her legacy by providing service dogs to disabled Veterans.”

The mission of the Molly Frank Foundation is to provide service dogs to veterans and active military service members that suffer with PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, or mobility issues. These dogs are provided to the recipient at no cost to them.

To find out more about the 14th Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court, please visit:  14th Judicial District Veterans Court.

To find out more about the Molly Frank Foundation, please visit: Molly’s Foundation.

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