Veterans' Court Helping Service Members Stay Clean, Adjust to Life after Combat
By Csaba Sukosd | October 2, 2018
Every Monday afternoon, Courtroom 12B in Franklin County Municipal Court goes through its usual docket. Unlike most people under community control, those who are part of the military and veterans' services specialized docket (MAVS) are connected through another kind of commitment.
'This is super probation for people who are veterans," said Judge Ted Barrows, who has operated MAVS since 2014.
The specialty docket, which started in 2012, is a probationary program that allows active or veteran service members with misdemeanor and traffic offenses, such as domestic violence and operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, an avenue to clear their record while also combatting the mental health issues many of them face after returning home from their deployment(s).
"I know what it's like to take an oath to defend the country. I know what it's like to put on the uniform and get yelled at by drill sergeants on a daily basis. So, I have that basic understanding and that has helped me relate sometimes to the situations," said Barrows, an Army vet who served in Vietnam.
The court handles anywhere from two dozen to approximately 40 entrants on the MAVS docket at a time. Participation first requires approval from the prosecuting attorney followed by weekly court appearances for the first three-to-four months. Once Judge Barrows is assured of a participant's stability, the mandatory appearances are lessened to bi-weekly, which then get lightened to every three, then four weeks over time with the goal of graduation within two years. Those who successfully complete the program have the charge cleared from their record within two years.
Judge Barrows says a large portion of those who plea into the program are using alcohol and/or drugs as a form of self-medication.
"Our first goal with those folks is to get them sober long enough to sit down and work through a process of figuring out what they're trying to escape from," he said.
For others, their demons are more difficult to diagnose.
"There are people in executing that service who have suffered damages that they can't even understand, that I can't even understand, and that we all need to be cognizant of and work hard to help them overcome," Judge Barrows said.
The biggest obstacle he sees isn't relapsing or other similar setbacks. It's people who have been taught to be self-reliant in harrowing and extreme circumstances admitting they need support. Judge Barrows believes many consider it to be a sign of weakness.
"That's the main problem is veterans who think they're still the strongest, toughest people in the world and whatever comes their way they're trained to handle it, and they don't get that nobody can make this journey by themselves. Everybody needs some help getting back to what is a quote 'normal life.'"
While graduating from the program is certainly something to celebrate for all, Judge Barrows believes the more notable battles in such a lengthy fight are won along the way.
"It doesn't happen every day, it doesn't happen every week, and it doesn't happen every month, but that makes it when somebody can see an improvement in their life in the future and heading in that direction," he said.