A little more than two months since Dallas County held its first veterans' court docket, the diversion program has grown to include nine former service members -- six Vietnam vets and three veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq -- who'll complete two years of treatment and mentoring to keep a clean record.
While Judge Mike Snipes, who runs the specialty docket, would like to see the program cover 50 veterans eventually, he says the first two months have been promising. "There is no one that's in the program right now that I think is not eventually going to make it," Snipes tells Unfair Park.
Vietnam Air Force vet Carlos Melendez, who was arrested on drug charges, was the second one in front of Snipes when the program began, and with help from his program mentor, Snipes says he's found a job.
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Some vets in the program weren't even receiving Veterans Affairs benefits before their arrest. "It's very challenging because a lot of these guys are homeless, and you've got to get them un-homeless," Snipes says. "It makes it tough to find them if they try to abscond."
The greatest challenge, though, statewide, is finding new funding sources to keep these new veterans courts running -- a subject covered in a joint committee meeting at the state capitol last week. Snipes says Dallas County's program just won a $110,000 grant to hire a dedicated probation officer to oversee the veterans court.
"This is something that's got a whole lot of support from the public. It's the price we pay when the national leadership has decided to have two wars at once, which then necessitates multiple deployments," Snipes says. "We've never had that before."