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Veterans court program helping former service members stay out of jail

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COLUMBUS, Ind. – Court resumed Thursday for veterans who are seeking treatment from drugs and alcohol abuse. It’s part of the Bartholomew County Veterans Treatment Court program to help veterans and keep them from spending time in jail.

The program has been going on for more than two years in the county. Leaders said more and more communities are starting court programs for treatment to help veterans who have struggled following their military service.

“The ultimate goal of the treatment is to help them restore their lives back to where they were,” said Bartholomew County Superior Court 1 Judge Jim Worton.

Worton runs the veterans court program, where men and women come in front of his bench twice a month to give progress reports and update them on their treatment. It can take more than a year for a person in the program to graduate and have their record expunged.

“It’s an incentive to make sure they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Richard Caldwell.

Caldwell served in the military, starting during the Vietnam era. Today, he continues serving, but this time, as a volunteer mentor.

Each person in the program is assigned a mentor to provide support through the treatment programs.

Caldwell said Worton will put a veteran in jail for a weekend if they slip up during their treatment. He said it’s a way to make sure veterans take the program seriously and get back to meeting their goals.

“A lot of them take up drinking,” said Caldwell. “A lot of them take up drugs. Some of them have lost their jobs and they get themselves in trouble.”

Caldwell was in the courtroom as Scott Paetzel, who decided to enroll in veterans court after a DUI, gave an update on the help he’s received.

“I’ve used the civilian side and it was more of an in and out process,” said Paetzel. “Here in the veterans court they actually listen to your needs and help your needs as well.”

Paetzel said he’s a few days away from being eight months sober. He said having a mentor is a big part of getting him this far.

“Me and my mentor we go out to eat, and any issues arise with me, I can call and get advice and suggestions,” Paetzel said.

Paetzel, who served in the U.S. Army from 1990 to 1999, said he can graduate from the program in July if he stays on course.

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