Transforming Lives: 14th Judicial District Veterans Court Program Graduation

LAKE CHARLES, La. – The 14th Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court Program held its summer graduation at Lake City Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., on June 27.

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 that they helped Mr. DeRosier found in January of 2016.

“Mr. DeRossier deserves a tremendous amount of credit for starting this program by helping to get the grants and legislation needed,” said Judge Ritchie. “He also sponsors the food for these which we always appreciate.”

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

“I am a believer in therapeutic treatment courts,” says Judge Wilson about her commitment to veterans’ court. “It’s a very rewarding experience that makes me a better judge.”

Judge Ritchie, who is a Louisiana Army National Guard veteran, welcomed the graduates, their families, friends, supporters, and several former vets court graduates that gathered that evening. “This is our fifth veteran’s court graduation,” he said proudly. “I want you all to know that we are all here to work with you, to provide you with guidance and support, but this is a team effort. And, tonight is a celebration of your accomplishments!”

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 through on-site training in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who has one of the largest and oldest veterans courts in the country.

It was clear from the triumphant stories shared by the four veteran graduates that they truly appreciated the opportunity to get their lives back on track, and to provide support for veterans that are struggling as they once were.

Brett Broussard, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, gave a very moving testimony about what his life was before being allowed into veterans treatment court. “When I got out of the Marines, I was lost,” he said. “I didn’t have an identity and I was lost for years.”

Once allowed into the 14th JDC’s Veterans Treatment Court, he made a new plan for his life. “There were hard days and lonely nights, but you can do it,” he told the crowd. “I did it, after almost three years of someone from the legal system watching over me, but I did it.”

“Thank you for steering my son back in the right direction,” said a teary-eyed Kerry Broussard-Trahan. “I’ve seen such changes and growth in him.”

She went on to say that there are casualties of war that do not go across the pond, suggesting that the families of veterans are also impacted by what their loved ones go through. “We see that spark gone from their eyes and it breaks our hearts.”

She was incredibly grateful to the entire 14th JDC Veterans Treatment Court team for helping her son come back from rock bottom. “You all offered him and all these veterans hope,” she said. “This treatment court is a hand up for those who sacrificed so much for our country. Thank you all.”

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.

“Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself,” said U.S. Army veteran Jeremy Trahan. “I now know that just because I made a mistake, it doesn’t mean that mistake defines who I am.”

“You are the prettiest butterfly I have ever seen,” gleamed Judge Wilson. “Watching your transformation while in this court has been amazing.”

To find out more about the 14th Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court, please visit:  https://www.calcasieuda.com/programs-services/veterans-treatment-court/.

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