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Missoula Veterans Court program seeks mentors

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The Missoula Veterans Court program is actively seeking veteran mentors for court participants. Interested volunteers must have served in the military, and are required to submit an application and attend training.

A free mentor training is set for Saturday, Nov. 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the large meeting room of the Missoula Public Library. Lunch will be provided. Topics addressed will include: overview of the criminal court system; municipal, justice and district courts; sentencing alternatives; who are Montana's veterans; an overview of Veterans Courts and the role of veteran mentors; an overview of veterans services, community mental health and substance abuse treatment services; and an overview of post combat stress and traumatic brain injury.

Presenters will include representatives of Veterans Affairs, the Missoula Veterans Center, treatment providers and the court system. Follow-up monthly training sessions will be held for all mentor volunteers.

A collaborative effort of Missoula municipal, justice and state district courts, Montana Veterans Affairs and local veterans groups, the Veterans Court program was established in June 2011 as a part of the Missoula Co-Occurring Treatment Court. It is modeled after the first veterans court, established by Judge Robert T. Russell in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008. The 2010 census reports more than 100,000 veterans in Montana, second in the nation per capita.

District Court Standing Master Brenda Desmond, who presides over the court stated, "The community response, especially among veterans, to the new Veterans Court has been overwhelmingly positive. We hope and expect a large number of veterans will step forward to volunteer."

Veteran mentors will be expected to have regular contact with their assigned court participant and, if possible, attend weekly court sessions. Each veterans court participant will be assigned two mentors, so those who are not available during the day may still serve as a mentor.

According to the National Clearinghouse for Veterans Treatment Courts, a project of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, veterans courts are a blend of drug and mental health courts that "use the drug court model to serve veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental illness and/or co-occurring disorders. They promote sobriety, recovery and stability through a coordinated response that involves cooperation and collaboration with the traditional partners found in drug and mental health courts, with the addition of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Networks, the Veterans Benefits Administration, volunteer veteran mentors and veterans' family support organizations. Further, while veterans are not more likely to be arrested than others in the general population, "there are significant numbers of veterans involved with the criminal justice system, many of whom struggle with mental health and/or substance abuse illnesses," the clearinghouse notes.

For more information: NADCP Veterans Clearinghouse: www.nadcp.org/learn/veterans-treatment-court-clearinghouse; www.ABAJournal.com, (November 2011 magazine, "The Battle on the Home Front: Special Courts Turn to Vets to Help Other Vets;" www.armytimes.com/news/2011/02/army-courts-help-veterans-regain-discipline-022011w/; and Veteran Justice Outreach Initiative, www.va.gov/homeless/vjo.asp

Contact: Brenda Desmond, Standing Master, Fourth Judicial District, bdesmond@mt.gov, (406)258-4728; Leslie Halligan, Deputy Missoula County Attorney, lhalligan@co.missoula.mt.us, 258-3246; Paul Harman, LCSW, Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist, (406) 447-6021, Paul.Harman@va.gov.

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