SALEM, Ind. (WAVE) - As the nation celebrates our independence on July 4, many Americans are thinking about the veterans who continue to protect and serve our country.
But many veterans struggle with issues after coming back from that service, sometimes winding up in the court system. The recent addition of a veterans court in Harrison and Washington counties gives veterans an alternative to traditional court and jail, helping them get their lives back on track.
“It’s gonna be an honor,” said Tim Howard, an Army veteran, thinking of the moment when he’ll officially graduate from the South Central Indiana Veterans Treatment Court program.
Stepping inside Southern Hills Church in Salem, a crowd of people filled the seats to celebrate two people Thursday. Tim Howard and Kayla Rainbolt are both veterans. Rainbolt served our country as a Marine. Howard served in the Army 101st airborne for four years. After a number of injuries before and during his service, came addiction.
“I had a combat injury to my lower back, my L4, L5 disc was shattered," Howard said. “I’ve had eight back surgeries and between surgeries and my primary care doctor, I was getting hundreds of pain pills a month.”
A few different run ins with the law first led him to prison, then more recently to the newly established veterans court serving people in Washington and Harrison counties.
Howard has gotten clean in recent years, and now through the veterans court program has found a way to get his life back on track.
“It’s not an easy process," Judge Joe Claypool, Harrison County Superior Court, explained. "It’s not something that veterans get a special deal, it’s almost like a bootcamp that you go through and it takes a year at least to go through the program.”
Claypool and Judge Larry Medlock, with Washington County Circuit Court, together serve as judges in the South Central Indiana Veterans Treatment Court program.
Claypool said this is a program he’s wanted to start for a long time, but in a rural county like Harrison, resources and availabilities can often be stretched thin. Partnering with Washington County and Medlock allowed them to establish this court that Claypool said has been badly needed in these areas.
The process is rigorous. The veterans going through the program adhere to a strict schedule just like they would when they were in the service.
“You’re drug screening twice a week, you’re going to treatment several times a week, you’re meeting with your case manager two to three times a week," Jessica Houchin, Veterans Treatment Court Coordinator, said. "So it’s a daily challenge for them to get where they need to go.”
The two counties established this program in 2016 and began accepting veterans in 2018.
“If there’s any group in society, any segment of society that deserves the opportunity for a second chance, it’s those who’ve served our country as veterans,” Medlock said.
And with the first graduating class, the veterans court appears to be a success.
"I made it through the program without any kind of troubles, no dirty screens or nothing,” Howard said. “If you’re just transparent with them, be honest with them, they’ll really help you get through whatever it is you’re going through.”
Speaking to the two veterans graduating, Floyd County Superior Court 3 Judge Maria Granger said, “You have held yourselves responsible. You picked yourselves up. Your actions will long be remembered as good and worthy for your efforts. So congratulations to both of you.”
Harrison and Washington County veterans and community leaders stood inside the church to thank these veterans for their service and for their hard work getting to this graduation from veterans court.
It’s an accomplishment they can hold onto, all while encouraging other veterans to sign up for the program that changed their lives.
“You gotta want it,” Howard said.