Harnett County Veterans Treatment Court celebrates 5-year milestone

November 9, 2018 GMT

The Harnett County Veterans Treatment Court, which offers special services to military veterans who have a brush with the law, celebrated its fifth anniversary this week.

Ryan Howell, a U.S. Army veteran and former staff seargent, says the court helped him tremendously.

“I got in a little bit of trouble,” he said referring to a DUI citation. “And that’s what brought me here.”

When Howell moved to North Carolina after serving in the military, his psychiatric condition was not properly diagnosed.

“When I moved out here I was an undiagnosed bi-polar with a diagnosis of PTSD and depression,” he said.

Howell spent seven years as an airborne infantry man and saw a lot of combat, experiences that he says affected him greatly.

The veterans court takes mental illness and previous life experiences into consideration when deciding the fate of a defendant.

“They have seen, experienced things that 99 percent of the population has not.” said Judge Jacquelyn Lee. “And that makes them unique.The courts needed a unique way to handle them.”

In order to provide the unique care that veterans in the judicial system require, Harnett County created the Veterans Treatment Court five years ago to provide defendants with the special treatment many of them needed.

“Some people get back in the civilian world and can’t handle that, for whatever reason,” Lee said.

Many of the defendants who end up in the veterans court have drug and alcohol abuse issues along with mental health conditions.

They’re paired with a mentor, who can be their advocate and help and encourage them.

“In this court, the focus is upon treatment, and unless we can get them to the treatment, all of the punishment in the world is not going to make them productive citizens,” Lee said.

Howell will become a “productive citizen” after going through the court.

He is working on an advanced degree in social work and credits the court with helping him get there.

“Now that I have the right medications and will stay sober through this program, it’s really been a great thing for me,” he said.

Howell is just of the many veterans that this court has helped.

Officials said the Court has reviewed more than 600 cases, accepting about 100 people into the program.

Of that, more than half have graduated successfully, organizers say.