“Real heroes don’t wear capes, they wear camo,” Butler County Common Pleas Judge Michael Oster told supporters gathered in his courtroom to celebrate the first graduations for Butler County’s Veterans Treatment Court.
The court has been operating for about two years and was certified as a specialty court by the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year. Roger Caldwell and Matthew Kellum successfully completed the 17-month program and, as of Monday, are officially Veterans Treatment Court graduates.
The court’s goal is to get veterans clean of addictions and help them cope with debilitating conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that might have contributed to their breaking felony laws in the county.
Assignment to the specialty court as part of probation is made by the sentencing judge in the felony division who had the veteran’s case originally. The veterans court is designed to break down barriers such as unemployment or under employment, homelessness, drug problems and other issues that may have contributed to veterans ending up on the wrong side of the law.
Oster told the crowd — that included family, friends, other judges, elected officials, prosecutors and public defenders — his court is no cake walk but it works. He says his main focus is helping the veterans get their sense of worth back.
“The brave men and women who have served our country, protected our lives, our freedoms, the ideals we have as Americans, should never get to a point in any way where they don’t feel that they are a veteran, they should never feel like they have lost a sense of honor or pride or who they are for that service,” Oster said. “No matter what else gets achieved in this Veterans Treatment Court my personal goal, as long as I oversee this court, will always be to give back our veterans every ounce of pride and honor they have earned serving our country.”
Caldwell didn’t want to go into detail about how he tangled with the law but said the program has helped him hook up with benefits he never knew were available, education and job training, it’s “remarkable” according to him.
“I was on a road that I was making some bad decisions in my life and I wasn’t really living up to my potential,” Caldwell said. “Through this program I got a new lease. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, sometimes pride can get in the way.”
The veterans court is one of five certified specialty courts in the county, including the felony drug, felony mental health and felony non-support courts, and the newest, the Family Treatment Drug Court.
Veterans Treatment Court participants meet with Oster and his team — made up of court staff, a representative of the Veterans Service Commission, the probation office and Jen Wolfe, a veterans justice outreach specialist with the Veterans Administration — every Monday to check in on their progress in the program.
Wolfe, who is on the Veterans Treatment Court team as an advocate for the veterans, said the specialty dockets allow for a special bond to form that facilitates healing.
“Our role as a treatment team is to wrap these veterans in bubble wrap,” Wolfe told the Journal-News. “We wrap all these services around them because they’re fragile. They have mental health disorders, they have substance abuse disorders, so you wrap all these services around them and you stay with them long enough to then let them get back out on their own.”
Kellum has been clean and sober for more than a year. He said he “deserves a good, boring life” — the judge says a “boring” life doing things the right way should be a goal for all the Veterans Treatment Court veterans — and with all the support from his family, friends, the Veterans Treatment Court and his fellow vets he knows he’ll be just fine.
“It’s really improved my life a lot,” Kellum said. “I’m in a better place now. I know I’m not going to to die, not from that anyway.
Oster also invited Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy a former Butler County common pleas judge and Hamilton police officer, has become a strong advocate statewide for specialty courts especially the Veterans Treatment Courts.
She implored the new graduates to remember there is support all around them — just a phone call away she said — and not to be discouraged by inevitable pitfalls life may throw their way.
“When you have doubt or fear, concentrate on where you want to go not what you fear. Decide what you want, believe you can have it, believe you deserve it and you’re worthy of it,” she said. “When those moments of doubt and fear come, all of us fail, for the act of failure isn’t the fact that it happens, failure happens when we stay down. You above of all know how to pick yourself up and move on.”