By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4)– A specialized court in Colorado is helping struggling veterans safely transition to the next chapter in their lives.
Army veteran Michael Flora was one of the speakers at a conference in Denver on Veterans Treatment Courts on Friday.
“As a young man in the military, in the war zone, I lost myself and lost my values,” says Flora.
Like many veterans, he came back from war to battle demons within. He says he turned to drugs, was arrested, and would likely be dead if not for Veterans Treatment Court.
“The veterans court, they really, really care about the person. They individualize the therapy. They look at exactly what’s happened to you, what you’ve gone through, what your precise needs are,” said Flora.
The specialized courts are in a handful of Colorado judicial districts. They give veterans – many of them suffering from mental illness and substance abuse – a second chance.
A key component of the courts is volunteer peer mentors like Leo Martinez. They help veterans navigate the system.
“I’m an old soldier who does this because it needs to be done. They become my soldiers and my responsibly to them, in my mind, is the same as it would have been had they been in my battalion,” said Martinez.
He says the recidivism rate in veterans’ court is 11 percent compared to up to 70 percent in criminal court.
Treatment is another key component of the courts.
“The people we’re dealing with in this program they all have one thing in common – they all went to boot camp. And we’re trying to tap into that point in their life when they were successful, when they had pride,” says Judge Brian Bowen.
He volunteered to preside over the veterans’ court in Adams County, that he runs on top of his normal docket.
Bowen says prosecutors, public defenders and probation officers also volunteer for the court, “The people who’ve taken an oath to serve our country and say they’d lay down their life, we owe it to them.”
Flora says he’s grateful, “That there’s somebody out there – a team of people – who really truly care and want to work with veterans.”
Veterans who commit more serious felonies are not accepted into the specialized courts. El Paso County had the first veterans court in Colorado. They’ve now expanded to four more judicial districts.