By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – An $80,000 grant from Wayne County’s Mental Health Authority, in conjunction with a $50,000 grant from the State Court Administrative Office, will continue to fund the Downriver Veterans Treatment Court.
The court, begun in January 2016, currently has 26 veterans in the program, and has six program graduates.
James Kandrevas, 28th District Court judge, said he approached the Downriver Community Conference and local veterans groups to create a court, similar to those in Monroe and Redford Township, to address the needs of veterans with Post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions and other issues caused by the nature of their military service.
“They wanted one court to handle veterans in the Downriver area, to get the services that are available and that they deserve,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t know enough to do that, or they need someone to give them a little nudge to do it.”
Kandrevas said the program, which runs for 18 months, will dismiss the charges if the veterans successfully complete the program, which means they will not have criminal records.
“We try to obtain the proper services for them,” Kandrevas said. “Medication, an appointment, or financial benefits that they are entitled to if they cannot do any employment.”
Court Administrator Jeffrey Meussner said the only veterans not eligible for the benefits would be those who were dishonorably discharged.
Kandrevas said veterans who enter the service mentally and physically fit, and who serve multiple deployments sometime “act out” when they return stateside, and they are given dishonorable discharges.
“That is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “The veterans have banded together and have gotten legal assistance, and tried to overturn some of those decisions because they needed help.”
Meussner said advocates help veterans improve their benefit eligibility and try to improve their discharge status. He said many veterans have had traumatic brain injuries that result in mental illness or substance abuse.
“We may take somebody with a dishonorable discharge and try to walk them through the process to improve their discharge,” he said. “It is kind of a new thing, and we have a couple in the process.”
Kandrevas said one of the first veterans they worked with was a drunken driver who was depressed and attempting suicide.
“He was one of our first successes,” Kandrevas said. “He did the treatment, he no longer drinks, he is a responsible individual, he has a job, he takes care of his child and he has turned completely around. He is leading a normal life.”
Kandrevas said that before the veterans court existed, he came across cases that indicated the need for a veteran treatment court program.
“I wanted to have a veterans court, that would take care of people that had problems,” he said. “So it was a good match – they asked me, and I immediately said yes. They have done their duty to their country, and they deserve that consideration back.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])