By Richard Clark and Terry Hood, The News On 6
TULSA, OK -- Veterans who get into trouble with the law by using drugs or alcohol have a new ally. The City of Tulsa, Tulsa County and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have joined forces to create a Veteran's Treatment Court in Tulsa.
It's only the fourth court of its type in the whole country.
"In drug court we have a saying: 'don't look down on someone unless you're helping them up,'" said Tulsa County Special Judge Sarah Smith.
The head of the Tulsa County Drug Court believes the new program will be a huge success. Judge Sarah Smith says the Veterans Treatment Court is a way to help people who at one time put their country before themselves.
"With so many hands reaching down, I can't help but believe that this will be a very successful venture," said Tulsa County Special Judge Sarah Smith.
The idea is simple: the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office will flag any veterans who are booked into the jail. Veterans charged with non-violent, drug or alcohol-related offenses will then be diverted to the Treatment Court. That will give them a chance to avoid jail by going through a tough boot-camp-like program instead.
"It's not the dog and pony show. I mean if you mess up once, you're going to pay for it," said Matt Stiner, the Mayor's Liaison for Veterans Affairs.
The Marine Corporal turned mayor's aide who helped set up the program says any veteran is eligible.
"It's all inclusive. We still have Vietnam veterans who need help. We still have, you know, Desert Storm. But that's a good point, I'm glad you brought that up. It's just not for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, it's for any veterans that need help," said Matt Stiner, the Mayor's Liaison for Veterans Affairs.
Mayor Taylor says the program won't cost any extra money by simply realigning city and county resources. But, she says that's not the best reason to do it.
"If we can help them re-integrate into society, and become employed and support their families, it's much better for our economy, as well. But, most importantly it's the right thing to do," said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.
To illustrate the need for this program, Judge Smith says 158 veterans were arrested in Tulsa County in October alone.
The Veterans Treatment Court began Monday afternoon, with 12 defendants appearing before the judge. Tulsa Veterans Treatment Court is modeled after one in Buffalo, New York, where the idea began.