Ohio county probate court to help veterans
ELYRIA — The Lorain County Probate Court will be forming a pilot project called the Lorain County Veterans Treatment Court, which is projected to be operational for felony cases by September.
The VTC is a hybrid between a mental health court and a drug court that will serve veterans who are struggling with addiction and/or mental illness by taking them from a traditional criminal justice system into a specialized veterans court, said Lorain County Probate Judge James Walther.
The programs goal is to assist veterans who become involved with the criminal justice system and to get treatment for mental health or substance abuse problems, Walther said. Only veterans who are charged with certain felonies who are in need of treatment can go through the VTC. The program is designed for offending veterans to get treatment instead of being sent to prison.
“A unique aspect of the VTC is that every veteran is assigned a volunteer veteran mentor,” according to the court. “The mentors work directly with VTC participants in a facilitator, advisor, sponsor or supporter role.”
The program will assist in providing medical and mental health treatment, training and help with finding jobs, housing and transportation.
Court Administrator Tim Lubbe said the cases will start out in the general division and offenders will be determined eligible while in municipal court, arraignments or pretrials. Once the veterans are identified and meet the criteria, an order will be made to Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office. The offender will have to fill out paperwork and if the case meets the criteria, it would be transferred to Walther. Even though Walther is a probate judge, he also is a common pleas judge, Lubbe said.
“We haven’t determined the exact mechanism or at which point the process the case is going to be transferred to the Veterans Treatment Court,” Walther said. “That’s something we still need to talk about with the general division (judges) and the prosecutor’s office.”
Walther said that he thought the county should create the VTC after reading a magazine article about Youngstown’s Veterans Treatment Court.
“As soon as I read the idea I thought it was the greatest idea since sliced bread,” Walther said. “I just got so fired up about the idea, I thought this idea was really worthy.”
Walther has been working on it since October and has met with Will, veterans, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge and various other judges. A probation office will start planning the programming because the court has to have certification by the Ohio Supreme Court by Jan. 1 next year. Walther said there is a lot of work that goes into the court, but he would like to get it done promptly and to make sure they comply with everything.
“If I could I would have started yesterday, but I realize there is a process,” he said.
The VTC anticipates a grant from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, from the Office of Criminal Justice Services. They also will require initial funding from the general fund budget for start-up costs.
The VTC is working on planning and implementation with the Veterans Administration, the Ohio Supreme Court, the county prosecutor’s office, Lorain County commissioners, the county Adult Probation Department and the common pleas court general division.