Information meetings on the Essex County Veterans Court program will be held Thursday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Ticonderoga VFW on Shore Airport Road; Tuesday, Aug. 13, at the Keeseville VFW on Route 9; and Thursday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m. at the Lake Placid American Legion on Main Street.
Hero to zero.
It’s a saying among many veterans, especially for those who come from military service and run afoul of the law.
“It can be very difficult for young veterans, especially in today’s economy,” said Harry Treadway, a Vietnam veteran who is Essex County Veterans Court mentor coordinator. “They come home and can’t find a job. They have too much time on their hands, so they drink a little too much and get into some trouble.”
Treadway, a Ticonderoga resident, and others hope the new Essex County Veterans Court can help those who have served their nation.
Information meetings on the court program will be held Thursday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Ticonderoga VFW on Shore Airport Road; Tuesday, Aug. 13, at the Keeseville VFW on Route 9; and Thursday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m. at the Lake Placid American Legion on Main Street.
The court is designed to offered alternatives to incarceration and to help solve underlying issues with veterans. It is available to all veterans.
Other veterans will work with veterans in the court system as mentors and advocates. Treadway coordinators the mentor program.
“Most vets today don’t trust the system,” Treadway said. “They just zone out when someone in the system talks. Veterans seem to respond better when they’re approached by other veterans.”
The trained mentors do not offer legal advice, Treadway stressed, but do help vets navigate the legal system. They also offer support.
“Each individual vet (in the court system) is assigned a mentor who is a veteran,” Treadway said. “We try match them up — Army to Army, Marine to Marine, Iraq to Iraq, Afghanistan to Afghanistan — so they have as much in common as possible. Sometimes, though, its good to have a Vietnam vet to talk to a younger guy.”
Veterans who are interested in serving as mentors can contact Treadway at 569-3602.
Treadway was instrumental in forming the Essex County Veterans Court. He learned of a veterans court in Buffalo and thought the program would work in the North Country. He approached courts in Essex, Clinton and Warren counties with the idea.
“The biggest concern was that wasn’t a need,” Treadway said. “The DAs and judges said they didn’t see that many veterans. I asked how many veterans came into their courts and they didn’t know. It turns out a lot of people were veterans, they just didn’t tell anyone.”
Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague said local police are now directed to ask anyone in custody if they are a veteran.
Judge Rick Meyer said the Essex County Veterans Court will offer assistance rather than just punishment for veterans. Offenders will be able to participate in addiction or mental health programs as an alternative to jail time at the discretion of the court.
“If there is a misdemeanor charge and you go to veterans court, you have the possibility to have the charge vacated if you complete the veterans court program,” Meyer said. “We can provide a whole array of support and services through this team. It will operate the same way as the drug court, but it will be just for veterans.”
The Essex County Veterans Court will deal with criminal and family court cases.
“We want to cast as wide a net for as many veterans as possible and their families,” Meyer said. “It is a wide net that we are trying to cast and it is a little unprecedented in the state, but we are trying to help as many people as we can.”
Treadway said the veterans court is a win-win for Essex County residents. It can save taxpayers money by keeping people out of jail and it save veterans the stigma of being labeled a felon.
“Let’s make productive citizens out of these people,” Treadway said. “It was the citizens of America who sent these people to war, the citizens of American should help them when they need it.”
The court heard its first two cases July 19.
Treadway stressed the veterans court is not “an easy way out” for those facing criminal charges.
“Believe me, it’d be much easier for someone of these vets to do 30-60 days in jail than to complete this program,” he said. “This isn’t about getting them out of jail, it’s about getting them the help they need.”