Budget Cuts Threaten Forsyth County Veterans Court
A Forsyth County court that helps veterans with mental health or substance abuse problems held its first graduation this week, a milestone that took place as the program faces an uncertain future.
Kenneth Williams, who joined the Marines in 1986 and served as a tank crewman in Iraq during Operation Desert Shield, was among those in the six-member graduating class.
“I’m ecstatic, man. It feels good,” he says.
The Forsyth County Veterans Court is designed to help struggling veterans like Williams who end up in the criminal justice system, and he says the support helped him understand the PTSD that contributed to his problems.
“It’s mainly an intervention on behalf of veterans to keep them from falling through the cracks,” he says.
For Judge Dave Sipprell, a former Air Force attorney who runs the court, the day was more bittersweet. Funding for the program has been cut off - if nothing changes, the court will lose its coordinator, Jemi Moore, at the end of the month.
That means the future of the program is up in the air for about ten veterans still enrolled.
“This is a program that everybody on the treatment team believes in, and we’re going to see if we can keep it going, though court will not be the same if we don’t have a coordinator position,” he says.
The court is for U.S. Armed Forces veterans who have a substance abuse issue or mental health diagnosis. The idea is to keep the participants out of incarceration by treating the underlying problem that leads to their criminal activity.
A mentor who is also a fellow veteran is paired with each participant to provide them with support.
Forsyth is one of only four counties in the state to have such a court, along with Buncombe, Harnett and Cumberland.
Sipprell says the court was not directly targeted for cuts but was caught up in a political dispute between federal officials and the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission. That’s the group that provides most of the money for the program.
Sipprell says there will be a meeting in the next week or so to determine what can be done with or without funding.
Some money does come to the program through an affiliated non-profit, Forsyth County Veterans Court Inc., which accepts donations from the public.
The graduation ceremony took place at Goodwill headquarters in Winston-Salem. The graduates had military experience ranging from the Vietnam era through Afghanistan.