The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


January 9, 2013

Tom Caulfield | Court program gives more aid to veterans

— With the recent progressive-minded Cambria County Veterans Court program announcement spearheaded by President Judge Timothy Creany and District Attorney Kelly Callihan, and with strong support from the veteran community and the community at large, we now look forward to its successful implementation.

An essential part of the program, where the rubber hits the road, is the veteran peer mentor program and the need for mentors.

What is Veterans Court?  What is veterans peer mentoring? I will try to answer those questions, with much more in-depth information available through our training session(s).

Cambria County Veterans Court is a joint effort between the James E. Van Zandt (Altoona) health care system, veterans organizations and the Cambria court system specifically for veterans. Veterans can be referred to Veterans Court for certain nonviolent offenses. If accepted into the Veterans Court program, individuals receive intensive treatment after arrests, rather than punitive measures such as jail or prison time. Successful (and we stress this is not a get-out-of-jail-free-ticket program) completion can lead to reduced charges or avoiding jail time altogether.

Peer mentors in Veterans Court are specially trained and committed individuals assigned to work with a veteran receiving services from the Veterans Court. Peer mentors work closely with these veterans to offer assistance, assess their needs and help them solve problems. Mentors will help with readjustment to civilian life and assist the veteran navigate the court, treatment and the Department of Veteran Affairs system.

Mentors will attend court sessions when available, and assist the veteran with concerns around court procedures. Peer mentors work respectfully and professionally with the veterans, service providers and others involved in the court system. Peer mentors will be trained to act as a coach and advocate for the veterans.

Peer mentor applicants must be a U.S. military veteran, be a good-standing and law-abiding citizen, have a genuine concern for fellow veterans, complete a screening process and required training, and have a minimum of one year sobriety.

The Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pa.-Johnstown (with assistance from Veteran Community Initiatives board) will coordinate and implement the initial veteran peer mentor training program.

Our first two training classes are scheduled for Thursday at the Hiram G. Andrews Center, 727 Goucher St., Johnstown. The first session will be from 10-11:30 a.m., with the second from 1:30-3 p.m. Contact the VLP offices

(255-7209) to register.

We are extremely excited to give many of our veterans the opportunity to obtain the rehabilitation and treatment necessary to return to the healthy and productive lifestyle they deserve. May God bless all our veterans, especially our troubled veterans.

Tom Caulfield is regional director of Veterans Leadership Program/Veteran Community Initiatives based at the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Upper Yoder Township.


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