Smith County Veterans Service Officer Michael Roark presented information about the new Veterans Treatment Court Thursday to members of the Smith County Bar Association.
Roark serves as program director for the new veterans court, which has recently been implemented and has one veteran participating. He gave his presentation about the court to members of the Smith County Bar Association attending the seventh annual Honorable Thomas A. Dunn Criminal Law CLE at the R.B. “Hub” Hubbard Center.
The purpose of the court is to work with veterans charged with a first-time misdemeanor offense to get them necessary treatment for any mental health issues and to return them to being productive members of society. Recidivism rates for veterans who have gone through similar courts is 20 percent, he said.
“It is a one-time deal,” Roark said of veterans getting helped by the program. “They get one bite of the apple.”
Veterans have to meet a strict list of requirements to be eligible for the court. Two bills in the Legislature, including Senate Bill 1474 and House Bill 1048, could relax some of those requirements. “I’m hoping these bills get passed and signed,” Roark said.
He has been working for more than a year to implement the Veterans Treatment Court.
Smith County Commissioners, the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System and the VA Regional Office in Waco have signed a Memorandum of Understanding as to what services will be provided for the veterans court.
The Memorandum of Understanding states that the participating entities plan to “provide eligible veterans charged with misdemeanor offenses in Smith County an opportunity to realize better outcomes in their contact with the criminal justice system through utilization of the VA-sponsored rehabilitative programs.”
Planning and developing the program included representatives from the Smith County Court-at-Law No. 2, Smith County Veterans Services and the Smith County District Attorney’s Office.
Upon successful completion of the program, which can last six months to two years, veterans can qualify for a full expungement of their criminal and arrest records, Roark said.
County Court-at-Law No. 2 Judge Randall Rogers presides over the veterans court.
Roark said he hoped to get two more defendants into the veterans court program on Thursday.