Brazos County Commissioners Court discuss potential Veterans Court
On Tuesday the Brazos County Commissioners Court discussed a potential advisory committee for a veterans court.
BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - A court designed to serve veterans could make it’s way to Brazos County, but it’s still just in the discussion phase.
On Tuesday the Brazos County Commissioners Court discussed a potential advisory committee for a veterans court. Members of this committee would evaluate, seek funding for and establish a veterans court in Brazos County. In a 2-3 vote the courted decided not to move forward with the committee, but instead it’ll hold a workshop to further discuss the topic. If the committee was approved, members would have included Commissioner Russ Ford, Commissioner Steve Aldrich, County Attorney Earl Gray, Bill Youngkin and Bruce Erratt.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Brazos Valley says a veterans courts could be the solution to helping veterans who struggle with post traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
“We have a lot of veterans here and we have services available, but the veterans court brings that together,” Erin Wilhite, NAMI interim board president said. “It provides structure and helps that veteran get back to society and to work within the structure of society that is so very different from the structure that they saw in the military.”
Wilhite said the organization has been actively involved with veteran affairs for a long time and it even has programs for veterans and first responders.
“We try to help people knowing that 22 veterans, possibly more that are unreported, are committing suicide everyday,” Wilhite said. “The veterans, more than anyone, deserve our support. The veterans served us and it’s our turn to serve them.”
Patrick Baca is a local disabled veteran who spoke at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting. He said having a veterans court would be positive for the community and help veterans with rehabilitation.
“We’re cleaning them up, and then showing them that they can live a normal life because they’re hiding behind drugs and alcohol and they’re numbing their bodies,” Baca said. “It’s counseling, it’s clean up, it’s crucial and if we just save one life a year, it’s pretty powerful.”
With veterans returning from Afghanistan, local veteran and NAMI veteran peer support specialist Lonny Masterson said it would be a disservice not to have one in Brazos County.
“We’re over there, we’re fighting and then we come back and we’re tossed into a closet to rust, then something happens and we’re just left to flounder,” Masterson said. “It’s not about a get out of jail free card, it’s about forcing this veteran into rehab. Having them let go of control, growing, becoming self sufficient again.”
Despite her vote against the committee, Commissioner Irma Cauley said she’s for a veterans court, but she wants to have a workshop with open discussion before moving forward. Cauley said the main problem is finding the funds, since the county will receive no new revenue at the 2023 tax rate.
“We, in Brazos County will need to have a judge and prosecutors that will also support that,” Cauley said. “I think it’s a great idea. I think the success is known throughout the nation, it’s just a matter of putting it together to meet the needs and fit the courts within Brazos County.”
Despite an upcoming workshop Baca said he felt the decision was unfair since the topic has been discussed with commissioners multiple times.
“There is absolutely no reason why we did not get a vote yes, so we can get our grant writers to get going so we can hopefully get this going in the Brazos Valley,” Baca said. “I hope somebody out there opens their eyes and realizes what we need.”
Masterson said a veterans court wouldn’t put a financial burden on the county and it would bring more money in while freeing up jail space.
“We could be a regional veterans court for [the] Brazos Valley and we have enough vets for a docket currently,” Masterson said. “We’ve missed two grant cycles this far when we could have had money to start it already.”
Aldrich, who voted for the committee alongside Ford, said there has been a lot of talk, but he hopes it finally leads to action.
“If we help one person, who is willing to put his life at risk for us to maintain our individual freedoms and liberties that we enjoy, isn’t it worth it,” Aldrich said.
A date on the workshop has not been set.
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