CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County’s veteran treatment court is looking for mentors.
The program helps veterans address the mental illnesses and substance use disorders that have led them to crime.
“You don’t just hang up your uniform, then go to work on Monday in the civilian world. A lot of us fail to adapt back to society,” said Jerry Weaver, a mentor for one veteran. “The mentors, we are kind of there to help guide them.”
Weaver’s own military experience has prepared him to help other veterans through the program that allows former service members to get treatment and counseling instead of jail time.
“When I got out, I enrolled in college and I found myself sitting in a classroom. I couldn’t do it. My mind wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” Weaver said. “I self-medicated. I had to drink before class, after class, and it just totally took over my life.”
Weaver hopes his struggles can help other veterans, and there are already five veterans involved in the 18-month program, with two others set to plead in soon.
“If I can get them to that point faster without them stumbling and going to prison, then it makes it all worthwhile for me,” Weaver said.
The treatment court is led by a Marine Corps veteran, Judge Peter Kouten, an associate judge of probate court in Charleston County.
“These guys don’t go out and do the things they do because they are bad people,” Kouten said. “You eliminate the addiction and work on the mental health issue, they’ll never even see the inside of a jail again.”
The program is not an easy alternative to being behind bars, and only veterans charged with non-violence offenses can be considered.
“The carrot on the stick is, if you complete this program, the charges are dismissed. That sounds great at the beginning, but it’s a lot of hard work,” Kouten said.
Congressman Joe Cunningham is working to increase access to veteran treatment courts nationwide.
“After serving our country, too many veterans are experiencing mental health issues, substance abuse, and homelessness, which can often land them in the criminal justice system. Veterans treatment courts, like those in Charleston and Beaufort County provide the counseling, care, and support veterans need to help address these challenges and more successfully transition to civilian life,” an email from Cunningham said. “The House passed H.R. 886, the Veteran Treatment Courts Coordination Act of 2019, to support treatment courts nationwide. This bipartisan legislation establishes a program providing grants, training, and technical assistance to help state and local governments develop and maintain veteran treatment courts, getting veterans treatment instead of jail.”