GREAT FALLS — The Cascade County Veterans’ treatment court has an extremely high success rate. Staff say it’s about 94 percent. But even with those promising numbers, the program still faces it’s share of challenges.
Judge Elizabeth Best administers the court. She says looking for ways to afford weekly incentives for participants is just one example of the need for increased funding.
While the program does get money from the state, it spends a lot of time seeking grants.
“We do spend more time than I think we should, just making sure that we have grants that can pay for some of the one of our staff salaries,” said Judge Best. “I don't think we should have to do that.”
Case manager Kathy Hankes’ position is entirely grant funded. She believes more money will go a long way for the program.
“Increased funding would help us serve more veterans and open us up to a lot more services,” said Hankes. “State funding limits us. We aren't able to buy incentives on state funding and sober social events, which is really a big part of the relapse prevention program.”
The State of Montana provides $106,000 annually. That money covers the cost of Treatment Court Coordinator Denver Cobb as well as wrap around mental health and substance abuse services.
In addition to state money and grant funding, participants also pay fees for reaching milestones in the program, although they’re not turned away for inability to pay. To help offset the fees, participants can do community service and other volunteer activities.
Judge Best says she tries to run the program as leanly as possible and isn’t asking for an enormous amount of money.
“I would just like to have a sustainable budget that comes directly and completely from the state that allows us to do our work without worrying about whether we're going to have money next year,” said Judge Best.
Judge Best, an Army veteran who doesn’t get paid for running the Veterans’ Treatment Court, is proud of her team which she says features a lot of veterans. She also speaks highly of the treatment court’s mentor program which is also made up of many active duty and combat veterans.
“It's really a vital part of our whole project here is having these folks who are veterans of current conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq, who have a lot in common with these veterans who are coming to court every single day,” said Judge Best. “And all of these people are coming for no money. They're coming because they believe in it, which I think tells you a little bit about its importance.”
Money isn’t the only issue. It’s been said the wheels of justice turn slowly. Treatment Court advocates say speeding things up would be helpful.
“We identify people pretty quickly, that enter the felony tracks through to initial appearances or from the attorneys,” said Cobb. “But getting them after we identify them takes 12 months or longer.”
Through the Indian Family Health Clinic and Sober Life, the court is always looking to offer more culturally appropriate and meaningful support for Native American participants.
“You know, a lot of these folks have been separated from family and culture,” said Judge Best. “And, of course, there's been damage done generationally. So, we can't fix all of it, but we're trying to provide some cultural supports there.”
Like many communities, Judge Best says another challenge Veterans’ Court participants face is finding affordable quality housing.
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