First graduates of Porter County Veterans court see better future
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent September 28, 2012 3:00PM
Noah Hamilton, left, of Kouts and Lance Young, of Portage shake hands following a graduation ceremony for the Veterans Treatment Court in Portage Friday Sept. 28, 2012. Both men served in the United States Navy. Hamilton served during the Vietnam War. Young seved during the Gulf War. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 30, 2012 6:07AM
PORTAGE — Adam Allen said Friday he felt privileged to be in the first graduating class of Porter County’s Veterans Treatment Court.
“I’m very fortunate this came about when it did,” said Allen, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and who learned about the program two years after his service was complete. “Not as many people are that lucky.”
Five veterans graduated from the program in Superior Court Judge Julia Jent’s courtroom; a sixth graduate could not attend for health reasons. The program, one of only a handful in the state, started in September 2011. Judges from Lake County, who attended the graduation, hope to start a program there by the first of the year.
About 20 veterans are in the three-tiered program and there is a waiting list. The participants committed an array of misdemeanors and low-level felonies, including operating while intoxicated, public intoxication, battery and domestic battery, and must have a signed plea agreement to take part, said Jackie Algozine, the program’s coordinator and case manager.
The court’s first phase is most intense and the program grows less so as veterans progress. During a routine court call with participants before the graduation, the goals for most of the veterans were much the same: a job; an education; going through the Veterans Affairs Addictions Treatment Program or Alcoholics Anonymous; and counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Friday’s graduates included veterans from the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The program, which relies on mentors to help the vets, uses a team approach that includes veterans organizations and the faith community, Jent said.
“This is about accountability, but it’s also about saying thank you and giving something back,” she said.
Allen, 29, was one of the court’s first participants. He hit a couple of bumps in the road, Algozine said as she presented him with a graduation certificate, and then realized the court was his one chance to turn things around.
He landed at Moraine House, a transitional house for men in Valparaiso, and was soon named as part-time assistant director while maintaining a full-time job. Allen has helped other vets at Moraine House and plans on serving as a mentor with veterans court, among other recent accomplishments.
Allen said he was charged with operating while intoxicated and found out about the court through the VA. It may have saved his life.
“I might not be alive (without the court). I don’t know. I was struggling with a lot of things,” including PTSD, he said. “I was kind of directionless and drowning in my own life, and the program gave me the direction I needed.”
One Iraq War veteran, who asked that his name not be used, joined the court in December. The Portage man is on disability because of a war injury.
“This program is different for everybody, but it has given me a good guideline to rebuild myself as a better person,” he said. “Seeing them graduate is an inspiration. You see there is an end to it.”