The long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have sent home physically and emotionally scarred veterans, adding to those from World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.
Across the country, we’ve seen the rise of veterans treatment courts that give nonviolent offenders a chance to straighten out their lives. In Allentown, the opening of the Veterans Sanctuary for vets beset with drug and alcohol problems and post-traumatic stress holds new hope for effective, respectful care.
Now the Lehigh County district attorney’s office is also reaching out to help troubled veterans. It’s working with a team that aims to identify criminal defendants who have mental health, alcohol and drug problems. The idea is to get them into treatment and, if appropriate, keep them out of prison.
One way to do that is to involve other veterans in the community as mentors. So the DA’s office and Lehigh County’s Team MISA, which stands for mental illness and substance abuse, are thinking about setting up a program in which vets would help other vets caught up in the criminal justice system.
“We recognize that medical and mental health treatment is extremely important but can only do so much,” District Attorney James Martin said in a Feb. 4 news release. “There are times when a person may need the compassion that only another veteran with similar experiences can provide.”
Mentors could volunteer to talk with the vets, drive them to medical and other appointments and give support to discourage them from getting into trouble with the law again. If it works, Martin said, the vets and their communities would be better off, and the criminal justice system would run more smoothly.
It’s worth a try, don’t you think?
Mentoring would be a challenge, but volunteering to help a vet who’s fallen on hard times would have its rewards – the satisfaction of making a difference in another person’s life and in your community.
This is something the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council should consider taking up. Maybe it could help get the word out and mobilize members. The council’s next meeting is at noon Wednesday at Saucon Valley Manor in Hellertown.
The mentoring program would be run by the district attorney’s office with Team MISA, which is made up of employees in the DA’s office, public defender’s office, Lehigh Valley Pretrial Services, the Adult Probation Department’s SPORE unit (Special Programs for Offenders in Rehabilitation and Education), Lehigh County Drug and Alcohol, the county prison and mental health caseworkers.
If you’re a veteran and you’re interested in becoming a mentor, contact Debbie Garlicki in the DA’s office at 610-782-3230. You’ll have to provide a copy of your summary of service at discharge, Form DD-214. Plus, you’ll be interviewed by the DA’s office and subject to a criminal background check.