DA's office unveils pretrial diversion program for vets

Veteran mentorship is one facet of the new Veterans Pretrial Diversion Program, enacted by the Parker County District Attorney’s Office. 

Parker County District Attorney Jeff Swain has his thoughts about post traumatic stress disorder in veterans: “If you go overseas, or wherever you happen to be serving, and you come back with PTSD, you got that PTSD serving our country.”

It was that mindset that made Swain want to help veterans who have entered the court system as a result of those issues, with the creation of the Veterans’ Pretrial Diversion Program.

“I’ve been thinking about doing this for quite some time, and once I became elected [in November], I started working on the program,” Swain said. “If there’s a way we can help you, that’s something we want to be able to do is help with the healing process.

The pretrial diversion program is similar to programs in other areas, like Tarrant County, which has a Veterans Court Diversion Program.

Swain said Parker County doesn’t have the numbers to support those programs in the more populous areas, but wants to bring some of those components here locally.

“If you look at the number of people who have served, that is a lot of people who have been through a lot of stuff,” he said. “Some veterans come back and some do fine, some don’t. Some come back and do fine and then later down the road have problems.

“Sometimes that lands them where they’re arrested, they’re in jail and they come to see prosecutors like myself.”

John Hale, veteran services officer over Parker County, said he sees many veterans who come back with PTSD, anxiety and depression from some of the things they’ve seen and encountered and is very much in favor of the pretrial diversion program.

He estimates there are about 11,000 veterans living in Parker County.

“The ones that are coming back from these wars, the things they had to see — I think this program will benefit them and their families,” he said. “A lot of the veterans I deal with, they don’t want to be a problem and they don’t want to go to jail, they don’t want their families to go without.

“This can keep a lot of them out of permanent trouble.”

Unlike the Parker County Attorney’s Office, which only handles misdemeanors, the district attorney’s office only deals with felonies.

While there are multiple levels of felonies, Swain said his office sees more lower level felonies with veterans than anything else. Those cases result in mandatory probation, and even in the event that that individual received deferred adjudication, it still goes on their record.

“That’s going to make it difficult on getting or keeping a job, applying for a loan or mortgage, or even financial aid to go back to school. That’s going to show up on your record for the rest of your life,” he said.

Among some of the program guidelines, a veteran must submit their DD214, or discharge papers, and pass an initial — and subsequent — drug test. They will also have to submit to a mental health evaluation — and comply with counseling if recommended during that evaluation — as well as complying with any medication requirements.

The veteran must also establish contact with a veteran mentor within the first 15 days. Swain, who plans to speak with various veterans’ organizations, said they are looking for as many volunteer veteran mentors to apply as possible. His office has received a couple of applications from prospective mentors but no program applicants — expected to be about five to 10 per year — as of yet.

“The goal of a mentor is to have somebody they can talk to who’s been where they’ve been and seen what they’ve seen,” he said.

The regular contact will also allow the mentor to keep an eye on that individual and look for any warning signs, either mental or physical.

“If somebody can make it a year clean, their chances of succeeding are really good,” Swain said. “But if they mess up, they have essentially, by that point, signed waivers of their right to trial and a confession, so they essentially go straight back to the court system and get sentenced.

“Pretrial diversion is a form of prosecution and it’s not just giving somebody a free pass — you’re saying we’ll give you a shot, a chance.”

Certain offenses are not eligible for the diversion program, including sexual offenses, aggravated offenses, DWI offenses, theft and/or fraud. In addition, if the individual has had previous pretrial diversion participation or any convictions, deferred adjudication or juvenile adjudication, they will not be able to participate.

Eligible offenses include possession of a controlled substance, less than a gram and possession of marijuana less than one pound.

Assaultive cases may be eligible with the consent of the alleged victim, and any other offenses not prohibited may be considered on a case-by-case basis.

If the veteran completes the diversion program successfully, their case is dismissed and they will be allowed to get an expunction.

Swain said the program can also be a help to saving money by taking these cases out of the court system.

Any veteran wishing to sign up as a mentor is encouraged to contact Swain’s office at 817-598-6124. Potential volunteers must complete an application regarding their service, life after service, employment, substance abuse history and recovery from same, mental health history and submit to a background check. Veteran mentors will be approved based on a full evaluation of the criteria.

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