If a veteran is charged in Kendall County with a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor and has a substance abuse issue or a mental illness, or both, they may qualify for a special veterans treatment court in the near future.
Kendall County Judge John McAdams spoke to a panel of representatives from county courts, law enforcement, mental health and veterans agencies and organizations on Friday, Dec. 1, regarding a proposed new veterans court program at the Kendall County Courthouse in Yorkville.
Legislation passed in 2016 will require every judicial circuit in Illinois to offer a veterans treatment court program, beginning Jan. 1. Kendall County is part of the 23rd Judicial Circuit along with DeKalb County, and DeKalb County will have its own veterans court.
McAdams explained that the veterans treatment court is an “add-on” or a “track” to the existing drug court program. Veterans facing nonviolent felony or misdemeanor charges – and violent charges on a case-by-case basis, he said – would be able to participate in the program.
McAdams said throwing drug users in prison is a short-term solution to someone being addicted, but it doesn’t help the long-term problem. He said putting someone in jail for three years, for example, would stop someone from doing drugs for three years.
“But our goal in drug court is to stop you from using drugs for the rest of your life,” he said.
McAdams said the next step is to get together with the drug court team and come up with a handbook with policies and procedures related to the veterans court. He said he doesn’t see the veterans court taking as long to establish as the drug court program, as the veterans court would be considered a “track” of the drug court using its framework and wouldn’t need to be started from scratch.
McAdams said the group is proposing the veterans court call would take place immediately before or after the drug court call, which is on Friday afternoons at the courthouse.
Elizabeth Gallichio, a veterans justice outreach specialist from Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Maywood, told McAdams that she currently works with veterans court programs in Will County, DuPage County, also covers the Rolling Meadows courts in Cook County. She said there are six participants, for example, in the DuPage County veterans court program and about 20 in the Will County program. However, she said that DuPage County does not include those charged with DUI in its veterans court program.
McAdams said conferences he has attended about veterans treatment courts have stressed that courts should include people charged with DUIs and domestic battery in veterans court.
“But across the board, most do not,” he said, noting that such charges are “political hot potatoes.”
Gallichio said the VA has had various substance abuse treatment options, but has recently also started a domestic violence program called “Strength at Home.”
McAdams said the program would accept combat and noncombat veterans, and those from all branches of the military, including active members, Reservists, and National Guard members.