Veterans Voices: Veterans Court

Veterans Voices

(WBRE/WYOU-TV) Dave Ragan says, “Here’s somebody that will help you go through the process to continue your treatment.”

Pennsylvania Army National Guard veteran Dave Ragan is the founder and president of Veterans Promise. It connects vets with services — and serves as a sanctuary for those struggling with their invisible scars.  Ragan has his own: PTSD and depression after deployments to Bosnia and Iraq. After his discharge, he became suicidal and had a personal run-in with police in 2014. But instead of a criminal record…

“It was huge. It was truly huge.”

He found redemption in Veterans Court.

“Whether it’s drugs or alcohol, whether it’s family stuff, whether it’s veterans stuff they will find a way to help you.” said Ragan.

In 2009, Lackawanna County became the first in Pennsylvania to offer Veterans Court.

“Veterans Court holds the person accountable for what they’ve done but also holds them accountable for their treatment so we’re looking at the underlying problem.” Said Judge Michael Barrasse, Supervising Judge, Lackawanna County Veterans Court

Lackawanna County President Judge Michael Barrasse says the offending vet, who he describes as high risk/high need, is paired with a mentor who’s also a veteran.

“So it’s a whole different environment than any of our other treatment courts because now you have veterans helping veterans and it’s a really unique type of set-up. We have the VA here in the courtroom.” Noted Judge Barrasse

The Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center has three Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists who play a supporting role in helping rehabilitate the offending vet through Veterans Court.

“Oftentimes those veterans who don’t have that structure tend to maybe not come to the VA as they should and get that continuity of care you know that will help them improve their lives,” added Kim Sapolis Lacey — Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist, Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center

Vets going through Veterans Court appear weekly in Judge Barrasse’s Courtroom for a minimum of 18 months — all the time undergoing counseling and treatment in their recovery.

“Even after vets graduate from Veterans Court, they maintain a connection to help keep them on a path of being active, contributing members of their community.”

The goal is to make sure they’re not only obeying the law, but also effectively coping with their crisis.

“Often what we do is after your first six months to a year and to have the charges dismissed, expunged requires them to come back,” noted Judge Barrasee.

A clean slate and a fresh start…

“You’re given the opportunity to have this stuff go away,” added Dave Ragan

Thanks to Veterans Court.

“It really is good to see someone like Dave who now has embraced recovery but also has embraced the idea I’m a veteran, I was helped in Veterans Court, what can I do to help other veterans” added Judge Barrasse

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