State's Only Veterans Treatment Court Holds First Graduation Ceremony
(Dedham, MA)-A group of veterans are set to become the first graduating class of the state’s only veterans’ treatment court, which holds weekly sessions at Dedham District Court.
The Norfolk County Veterans Treatment Court graduation will take place today, November 12, 2 p.m., at the court, 631 High Street, in Dedham.
The five graduates, who are on probation, credit the 12 to 24-month post-disposition program for turning their lives around, addressing their substance abuse issues, and improving their relationships with family and friends. The probationers served the country as members of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps and completed deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Desert Storm. Through participating in the court, the probationers have sustained employment, housing, sobriety, and family relationships. Two are homeowners and several have gone back to school or picked up a trade, according to Probation Officer Sara Cohen, who supervises their cases. One of the veterans is now an ordained minister and father of twin sons, Cohen said.
Adam Matthews, a 23-year-old Marine Corp veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said of the court, “It turned my whole life around. If it were not for the Veterans Court, I would not be anywhere near where I am today. It was all the right treatment plans. And, what helped make the treatment plans so helpful was to see how they cared about my success. They provided me more support than my family ever gave me.”
The Veteran’s Treatment Court, which is coordinated by Dedham District Court Judge Mary Hogan Sullivan and Assistant Chief Probation Officer Jeffrey Jarasitis, was first established in March 2012. The court’s team-- which includes a prosecutor, defense attorney, volunteer mentor, veterans justice outreach coordinator, police detective, clerk, and treatment coordinator-- was trained by the National Drug Court Institute. The court sessions are held every Tuesday where Judge Hogan Sullivan presides and Probation Officer Cohen meets with the probationers and makes recommendations to the judge and the team members on the veterans’ cases.
Veterans Court is based on five different phases, which typically take a minimum of one year to complete. Participants must meet a set of pre-determined requirements to advance through the phases. New arrests may result in the offender repeating a phase or being cut from the program. The five phases include orientation, introduction to treatment, initiation to treatment, full engagement in treatment, and stepping down from treatment and community integration.
“Part of the success of the program is related to the dedication of the staff. Another key factor is the collaboration with the Veterans Administration and the Department of Veterans Services,” said Judge Hogan Sullivan. “We really weren’t quite sure what we were going to face with the veterans when we first started the program. However, we have learned a lot along the way and have been able to find resources. The veterans are accountable to the court and involved in treatment.”
She added, “The process for the veterans is not easy. We deal with a lot of things everyday in the court. Every single week, they are being tested and monitored to ensure that they are complying with their treatment. To have success is gratifying. Our Probation Officer is amazing and the whole team is incredible.”
Probation Officer Cohen described her experience working with the probationers as “extremely rewarding, meaningful, and purposeful.”
She attributes the success of the program to judicial oversight as well as the time and attention Judge Hogan Sullivan provides the participants by checking in with them and their progress.