Ten Years of Second Chances – VFW

A decade ago, officials at a New York court were stunned at how veterans charged with non-violent crimes responded to an offer of help
November 28, 2018

It’s been 10 years since the first veterans treatment court started in Buffalo, N.Y., and Jack O’Connor is pleased with what he’s seen over the past decade. Veterans who would be in prison — and without treatment — are healing and rebuilding their lives.

O’Connor, the former program director for Medicaid in Erie County, N.Y., started the court in 2008 with two other veterans advocates. Hank Pirowski, court coordinator for the county’s mental health court at the time, and Judge Robert Russell also helped get the program going.

It all started when O’Connor and Pirowski were observing drug and mental health court sessions. A Vietnam veteran stood before Russell, looking at the floor and mumbling in response to questions. 
Russell asked O’Connor and Pirowski, both Vietnam veterans, to have a chat with this veteran.

“All that man wanted was to talk to other Vietnam veterans,” O’Connor said. “He was in a good program, but there were no veterans in it.” 
After talking with the two men, the veteran came back to the court and stood at parade rest.

“He looks the judge right in the eye and said, ‘Judge, I’m going to do better,’” O’Connor recalled. “What we’re saying to ourselves was, ‘What the hell happened?’ The guy had never talked, only mumbled.” 

VA Secretary McDonald Meets with Judge Robert Russell (2015-07-25)

The first Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) was started in 2008 in Buffalo, NY. Today, there are 220 operational VTCs in the U.S. serving 11,000 veterans. On Friday, July 17 Secretary Bob McDonald met with Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court Judge Russell and leaders from Justice for Vets to talk about the importance of VTCs.



Secretary McDonald thanks court mentor Jack O’Connor and his mentor team for helping other veterans in the court.






The ‘win-win-win’ Tompkins could use to help jailed veterans (2015-07-01)

ITHACA, N.Y. — There is a proven way to drive down incarceration rates among veterans. Veterans Treatment Courts are described by experts as a “win-win-win” solution.
Recidivism rates for the formerly incarcerated are around 50 percent nationwide, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In counties that have these specialized courts, the likelihood of a veteran reoffending plummets. In Buffalo, like many other courts across the country, the recidivism rate is just 5 percent.


What is a Veterans Treatment Court? (2015-07-01)

posted Jan 5, 2017, 11:38 AM by Jack O’Connor

ITHACA, N.Y. —  A Veterans Treatment Court, or VTC, deals exclusively with veterans. These courts pay special attention to the stressors and mental illnesses that follow veterans home and attempt to rehabilitate veterans using structured treatment programs rather than relying on punitive sentences.


Judge Robert Russell Receives the AMVETS Silver Helmut Award (06-22-2015)

posted Jan 5, 2017, 11:35 AM by Jack O’Connor

The AMVETS Silver Helmet Award was awarded to Judge Robert Russell who created and has presided over the Veteran’s Treatment Court in Buffalo, New York since January of 2008. This court, the first of its kind in the country, provides treatment and counseling to eligible veterans with substance abuse or mental health issues. Veterans who voluntarily enter the program attend regular court appearances and treatment sessions, and receive regular substance abuse testing.

For Vets, Rehab Rather than Prison (01-31-2014)

posted Jan 5, 2017, 11:33 AM by Jack O’Connor

Ronald Taucher, an Air Force veteran, was back in federal court last week. Unlike his past court appearances, however, when Taucher battled alcohol abuse and risked going to jail, now he was celebrating his graduation.
Taucher completed a new program that offers veterans struggling with substance abuse a chance at rehabilitation rather than prison.

Retired Brig. Gen. Allison A. Hickey, the U.S. Under Secretary for Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Visits the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court (1-16-2014)

posted Jan 5, 2017, 11:26 AM by Jack O’Connor

Retired Brig. Gen. Allison A. Hickey, the U.S. Under Secretary for Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs, visited the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court in January 2014. After talking with Judge Robert Russell and the Buffalo Veteran Mentor Group, she said,
”it was a life changing experience.”  Under Secretary Hickey reports directly to Secretary Shinseki and is the head of the Veterans Disability Office in Washington, D.C.
The Buffalo Court was the first veterans treatment court in the country, and today there are more than 100 courts across the nation.

Dempsey Praises Veterans’ Rehabilitation Program (12-6-2013)

posted Dec 8, 2016, 4:57 PM by Jack O’Connor   [ updated Dec 14, 2016, 9:59 AM ]

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2013 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today praised the members the Veterans Treatment Court Convention for their work in developing the innovative program designed to help veterans get their lives back on track.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the program, which grew out of a grass-roots effort in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, is especially needed for a generation of service members that has lived through 12 years of repeated deployments into intense combat.
One of Dempsey’s focus areas as chairman is to find ways to integrate these veterans back into their communities. The vast majority of vets do so with few problems, but some have severe problems stemming from their service.
In 2008, Buffalo Judge Robert Russell noticed an increasing number of veterans coming to his court for drug and alcohol offenses who were clearly suffering from mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. The courts work with the local VA to get these men and women the help they need. The most important part of the program is the mentoring that other veterans provide.
The idea has grown. Currently, there are 130 veterans treatment courts in the United States with many more planned, officials said. The convention here in Washington was the first where officials from around the country could meet to share experiences and best practices.
Dempsey said all those involved with dealing with veterans need to remind the communities of what the veterans bring back to their towns and cities.
“There are stereotypes that somehow always emerge after a conflict,” the chairman said. “It does them a great disservice if we brand them with stereotypes.”
Dempsey wants Americans to understand what veterans bring back home. This generation of veterans, he said, is adaptable.
“They changed the way we do military operations,” Dempsey said. “The enemies we confronted didn’t particularly comport themselves to our organizational designs or our way of waging war.”
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have demonstrated uncommon courage, the chairman said. The all-volunteer force, he noted, sustained itself and the families of those who served.
“Even today with 54,000 serving in Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands deployed elsewhere around the world, they and their families continue to bear up under the strain of sacrifice and family separation,” Dempsey said.
And, this generation of vets is resilient, the chairman said. That’s something that those who work with the veterans treatment courts know full well, the general said.
Dempsey tells audiences around America that they shouldn’t consider reaching out to veterans as an act of charity.
“They should reach out to veterans because what they get is someone who will contribute in an incredible way to their organizations,” he said.
Dempsey reminded the audience that this is not a new issue. He noted that Gen. George Washington delivered his farewell address to the Continental Army 230 years to the day. Washington wrote in his farewell, “With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you. I now most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”
The nation’s act of reintegrating its military veterans after wartime is older than the American Republic, Dempsey said.
For more information about veteran treatment courts visit the Justice for Vets site athttp://www.justiceforvets.org/vet-court-con.