In the Army, Richard Ress survived duty in some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, but on a July day in 2009, he seemed ready for his life to end in the back of a Texas police car facing his third drunken-driving arrest in less than a year. According to the arrest report, Ress asked the officer “to shoot him and get it over with.” He was struggling with flashbacks and nightmares associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, which went untreated during four months in jail. A few years later, in 2015, he got a fourth DWI.
That’s when Ress was flagged for a program that aims to divert certain veterans facing criminal charges into treatment programs instead of sending them through the criminal court system. And rather than requiring veterans to travel to court appearances, this court travels to reach them in five counties near Dallas.
Judge John Roach Jr. said the court is a first of its kind, and he hopes it will be replicated in other rural areas without public transportation, where getting to hearings can be a challenge. “This is not an easy program. I expect a lot, and I expect commitment. But getting to court, having access to the services, that shouldn’t be the issue that prevents a veteran in one county from getting treatment available to a veteran in another county,” Roach said.
The three-phase program requires substance-abuse treatment, regular drug and alcohol testing, intensive therapy, mentoring and community service. If veterans graduate, their criminal charges are dismissed and their arrest records destroyed.
As of mid-December, 52 veterans were enrolled, but that number can fluctuate. On one December morning at the Kaufman County Courthouse, the judge removed one man from the program for lying about his drug use and enrolled another who showed up asking for help.
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