Androscoggin County may get new court for veterans

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AUGUSTA — Maine may get a second Veterans Treatment Court, this time in Androscoggin County.

Modeled on one established in Kennebec County six years ago, the proposed court would connect veterans in trouble with the law “with the treatment they need, the services they have earned and the support they deserve,” said Rep. Bettyann Sheats, D-Auburn, its sponsor.

With the unanimous backing of the Judiciary Committee, the bill heads next to the House and Senate, where the most likely obstacle to passage is its price tag.

The court would offer an alternative-to-prison route to try to help veterans and active-duty members of the military avoid getting in trouble with the law again.

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Sheats said that while nearly two-thirds of people convicted of a crime are later arrested again, the graduates of the veterans court in Kennebec have a recidivism rate of nearly zero, a rate she’d like to see duplicated in Androscoggin County.

Participants in the special court must meet weekly with the judge and their assigned case manager. They also get outpatient treatment that includes substance and mental health counseling.

“Creation of, and funding for, an additional court in Androscoggin County will ensure that more service members, especially combat veterans, who find themselves on the wrong side of the law can turn their lives around and successfully reintegrate into civilian life,” Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, told colleagues.

He said the program “is a rigorous, strong and responsible way to rehabilitate these services members, many of whom have battled addiction, depression and cognitive impairment.”

Carson said the program relies on a team approach to help veterans who must plead guilty and then follow the court-ordered treatment plan exactly.

They must take multiple drug tests, undergo counseling, file reports and receive mentoring from their fellow veterans,” he said.

“Most members of our military coming home from active duty do not need this type of court,” Sheats said in a prepared release.

“But for those who do, we must do our part to continue to honor their service by helping them avoid incarceration, get the treatment and counselling they need and once again contribute to society as we know they do,” she said.

In her testimony to the committee, Sheats said Androscoggin County is “in a good position” to serve as the site of the state’s second veterans court.

She cited the Vet Center in Lewiston, a Veterans Administration program which provides readjustment counseling to combat veterans, as well as a VA community-based outpatient clinic in the city.

“We are also fortunate to have Veterans Inc. in our community,” a nonprofit that provides support services to veterans and their families in New England, Sheats said.

“We also have a large population center in need of this service,” she said.

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