GREAT FALLS – In 2012, Roger McConnell approached Judge Greg Pinski and explained the need for a veterans treatment court in Cascade County.
“Having been in the justice system himself and understanding the effect of the invisible wounds of war, Roger understands better than anyone what veterans needed in our community,” Pinski said.
Pinski said he promised McConnell he would make a veterans treatment court happen.
In 2013, two days after Pinski was sworn in as a judge in the Eighth Judicial District, McConnell came to his office.
“And he said, ‘Judge, let’s get going on that veterans treatment court,’” Pinski said.
McConnell gave Pinski inspiration and motivation, and he stood by as his dream became a reality.
Now five years later, volunteers, current participants, and graduates of the Veterans Treatment Court came together to celebrate the success of the program.
“We have assembled an amazingly-talented group of professionals willing to help justice-involved veterans,” Pinksi said. “Many who do, volunteer to do so.”
Pinski said the professionals gather with the veterans every week to make sure men and women have the support they need.
“Because of their dedication, we have served 108 who would otherwise be incarcerated,” Pinski said. “91 of those veterans have completed one of the most difficult programs in our justice system.”
Many of the men and women did not want help when they started the program.
Richard Cassels is a Marine who will graduate next week. He is thankful for the life-changing program.
“Thank goodness to one special counselor I would like to mention, Linda Blankenship, who after a couple of weeks, she set her syllabus aside and dealt with what she perceived to be the trauma of myself and this other individual. That was the grief over the recent loss of all of our children, coupled with PTSD, and physical injuries that just made life unbearable,” Cassels said.
Cassels said Pinski and the treatment team went out of their way to develop a new program to give a small group of veterans a chance to make a new life.
“At that time, that is when my respect out of fear turned into respect out of love,” Cassels said.
Like many of the other veterans, Cassels dedicated himself to the court, which transformed his life and the lives of those around him.
The men and women have put 987.5 volunteer hours into the community with only 10 percent recidivism. By going through the Veterans Treatment Court, they are saving the county jail $250,584.84.
Veteran unemployment is at 45.4 percent at admission to Veterans Treatment Court, but zero percent of non-disabled veterans are unemployed at the 12-month mark.
Veteran homelessness also reaches zero percent after 12 months.
“I am honored to know you. I am proud of everything you have accomplished, and I am humbled by the service you have given to this country and the help you are getting in Veterans Treatment Court,” Pinski said.
The Veterans Treatment Court has a 91.4 percent successful completion rate.
Reporting by Margaret DeMarco for MTN News