On Wednesday a new "veterans' court" will hold its first-ever session in Boston. It’s a special program that provides services for veterans who’ve committed crimes and are struggling. Dedham’s Veterans Court has already seen success.
A steady stream of about 18 veterans is filing into Courtroom 3 on a recent weekday afternoon. It’s a slightly different-looking courtroom, lined with flags from every branch of the military. These vets are here because they’ve committed crimes and fallen into hard times. But instead of being sent to jail, they’re getting special support.
Former Marine David Odenweller has avoided jail by appearing regularly before Judge Mary Hogan Sullivan since 2011 when he was arrested for, among other things, drug possession and operating under the influence. He served in Okinawa and Iraq. And he says he wasn’t prepared for his eventual re-entry into civilian life.
“I didn’t seek the treatment I needed once I first got out. There’s a lack of debriefing for a lot of the guys coming out of the military. And you know the civilian world adjustment that really throws them for a loop and I think I fell into that,” he says.
Odenweller was particularly haunted by one of his last assignments in the Marines.
“And in the beginning of 2006 I was in Aberdeen, Maryland, at the joint personal effects depot. It’s a place where they inventory all the deceased and wounded’s personal gear before they get ready to send it home to the next of kin or the wounded soldier,” he explains.
Odenweller said he self medicated, his marriage fell apart, and his legal troubles escalated. But instead of serving time, he comes to Veterans court where he’s put on a multifaceted support plan and monitored.
Sara Cohen is his probation officer.
“You meet with your probation officer at least four times, you meet with the judge four times, and you’re open to developing a service plan, you can move to the next phase. Phase two would be initiation into treatment.”
A total of 49 veterans, mostly men, have gone through the program, which works closely with the Veterans Administration. They take drug tests and go to therapy.
“It’s much more empowering and both the court and the VA are ending up with better outcomes. So that was one reason we went into it, to work more closely with the VA,” Cohen said.
Odenwaller said he thinks it’s a good resource.
“If I didn’t have this and I was just faced with my year or so sentence in jail then who knows what would have happened when I got out? This is a program based for the individual to get treatment and help that they need. And if you don’t then you’re faced with that same sentence that you were looking at in the beginning. So it’s a second chance and it’s no doubt in my mind saving lives.”
It’s an approach the state and veterans like David Odenweller hope will reduce recidivism.