Veterans program gaining momentum

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David Minton/DRC
The coin all program participants receive after graduating from the Denton County Veterans Treatment Court Program is shown recently. Officials said the star is purposefully crooked above the courthouse because “not everyone is perfect,” but when handed over in the direction of the Texas flag, everything is back in alignment again.

The number of participants in the Denton County Veterans Treatment Court Program has doubled since county commissioners selected Jeff Gilmore to serve as the program’s first manager in early November.

Working alongside County Criminal Court No. 3 Judge David Garcia and others involved in the program, Gilmore has been able to streamline how applicants are selected and improve efficiency.

One of the first changes Gilmore said he made was to integrate treatment plans.

“I wanted to keep it simple, so now each veteran’s plan looks like a court order,” Gilmore said during an interview Wednesday afternoon. “No matter what their treatment is, whoever is over their treatment can just go check down a list. ... I’m all about streamlining things.”

The veterans court program, approved by commissioners in 2009, is a collaborative process between the court, defense counsel and prosecutors to treat combat-related health conditions that lead to criminal behavior. Once a veteran graduates from the program, the Denton County District Attorney’s Office will wipe his or her criminal record clean.

Gilmore said he has been following the “keep it simple, soldier” method to bring the program up to where it should be. He was chosen over 50 other applicants late last year and draws an annual salary of $58,000, funded by court fees paid by individuals who have been convicted or received deferred adjudication. Before he joined the program, it was volunteer-based and lacked direction, officials said.

When Gilmore took over the program, it had seven participants, and that number has now reached 14, with five prospects expected to join in the near future. The program also is expected to have its first female participant soon.

“Their lives start off one way and finish another,” Gilmore said of participants just entering the program. “When they come into my office for the first time, they listen but don’t hear me and they still don’t grasp the whole concept as they stand before the judge for the first time. ... It’s a whole new concept, and they are fighting that change. Ultimately at graduation they are a different person.”

All participants receive a gold coin upon entering the program, and new graduates now will be the recipients of an additional challenge coin, with the words “It takes the strength and courage of a warrior to ask for help.” The colorful challenge coin is adorned with the Denton County Courts Building on one side, and service flags on the other side to represent each branch in the military.

Gilmore said the program soon will have one full-time dedicated probation officer to handle the caseload from the Denton County Probation Department.

Help is always needed, program officials said, and they are awaiting word from a grant proposal submitted this year to Gov. Rick Perry’s office for an administrative assistant.

Gilmore, who just began his 21st year of service in the Texas Army National Guard, watched the program’s second veteran graduate Wednesday afternoon. He said he is looking forward to more success.

“Coming to work every day to help someone and see them succeed is gratifying,” Gilmore said. “To be able to do something like this to kind of give back is definitely something I enjoy being part of, but it really takes the whole team of us to make the program work. ... After all, I am just the umbrella.”

For more information about the program, email or call 940-349-2188.

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.

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