With the flags of all branches of the military posted in his courtroom, Senior Judge Frank Hazel accepted the first veteran into the Delaware County Veterans Treatment Court program, stressing to the veteran that as “the first,” he has a responsibility to succeed as his success will impact the future of the program.
The veteran, a member of the U.S. Army who saw combat in the war-ravaged country of Somalia, stood before Hazel along with Public Defender Michael Harper and his assigned mentor, a fellow veteran who will support him through the intense 12-month treatment program.
“You will need to bring the same bravery and determination that you brought to your combat service to this mission now to succeed in this program,” Hazel told the veteran. “And you are not alone on the front lines. You have many people supporting you in this program.”
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan, who as County Council chairman was instrumental in establishing the Veterans Treatment Court, was also in the Courtroom.
In 2011, Whelan formed a Veterans Justice Initiative task force to establish the Treatment Court as a third track to the existing treatment court options in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.
“This veteran is a perfect candidate for Treatment Court. He has no prior charges. This is a non-violent offense. He is a family man,” Whelan said. “We need to emphasize the importance of giving veterans an opportunity to receive the treatment they need.”
Whelan said the goal of treatment court is to treat the offender in order to prevent them from repeating criminal behavior, so success benefits the individual and the whole community in terms of public safety and criminal costs.
“Today, although you are tendering a plea to a criminal offense, you are also the first veteran we have the honor of helping through this Treatment Court,” Hazel said as he explained the requirements of the Treatment Court program.
The veteran will have to complete various requirements and appear before Hazel on a bi-weekly basis. His program will be coordinated and monitored by Diana Zinnie, the Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) coordinator for the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Coatesville.
Harper, who is the Public Defender’s supervising attorney for diversionary programs, said the defendant will have to successfully complete treatment for issues related to combat under strict court supervision.
When the veteran said he was a “grunt” on the front lines in the Army, Judge Hazel said: “We are going to rely on you to be a grunt again, to do the really hard work necessary to complete this program.”
“We sincerely believe we have to give more than lip service to our veterans who risked their lives in hostile nations to protect our freedoms here at home,” Hazel said. “That’s why we are offering this Treatment Court program. I trust you understand that being the first veteran accepted into the program carries responsibility to succeed.”
Linda Barbera, Delaware County Treatment Court Coordinator, said there has been significant success with the defendants who have gone through the other treatment court tracks.
Delaware County established the Mental Health Treatment Court Program in 2008, which involves collaboration between prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, social workers and treatment providers. Under Judge Hazel’s leadership, many non-violent offenders have been diverted from the prison system and, with help, have turned their lives around.