Bridging the Gap: Success found in Knox County’s Veterans Treatment Court

Bridging the Gap

(Editor’s Note: Watch for Bridging the Gap stories each Monday night at 6.
We will focus on re-entry programs at the detention facility – the largest jail in East Tennessee and will talk with Knox County Sheriff’s Office employees who work directly with inmates to find out how the programs work and how our community can get involved. If your business is hiring former inmates and wants to be featured on our program, email Lori at ltucker@wate.com.)

We’ve been following veterans who are behind bars in Knox County, as we learn about special programs designed to help those battling addiction get back to the person they were when they took an oath to serve our country.

At the heart of it all is Veterans Treatment Court, where a judge takes the time to learn each veteran’s story, and graduates of the program whose lives are changed.

Ricky Woods is a recent graduate of Knox County Veterans Treatment Court. After a 28-year career in the U.S. Army, reaching the rank of sergeant major over 172 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was 2012 when Woods had surgery for a neck injury suffered while on duty, marking an end to his military career.

That’s when the trouble began.

“After I retired,” Woods said, “I took up drinking, and from then on, it got to be 18 days at a minimum, 18 beers a day.”

In January, 2017, Woods got a DUI.

Instead of doing time, he ended up in treatment court where he received intensive outpatient therapy and help from other programs.

Ron Hanaver is Director of Veterans Court. He says times are changing in how the criminal justice system views addiction and mental illness.

Treatment Court walks troubled veterans through early stages of recovery and monitors them in the days, weeks, and months after, providing a sense of accountability.

Hanover said, “that involves where they work, and where they live, their curfew, three drug screens a week, attending drug court and answering to the judge every week.”

That judge is Knox County General Sessions Judge and Veterans Treatment Court Judge Chuck Cerny, who takes time to visit veterans incarcerated at the Knox County Detention Facility,
shaking hands, learning their stories.

“Veterans Treatment Court, ” Cerny said, ” is what’s known as a problem solving court , kind of like what we used to call drug court. We’re now referring to it as recovery court.”

Ricky Wood spent 370 days in Veterans Treatment Court, coming away with a fresh start and a desire to give back to other veterans in his shoes.

“I found myself after I graduated, ” Woods said, “that I became a veteran mentor because I wanted to help other veterans.”

Judge Cerny says veteran mentors like Woods are making a big difference in outcomes.

“We have tremendous success because of our veteran mentors helping our participants in the program.”

Veterans Treatment Court is for veterans who have substance abuse and/or mental illness.

Participation is voluntary and those taking part must be willing to commit to the intensive 9-to-18 month program. They also cannot have a history of violent crime.

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