Gaston County will soon have a Veterans Treatment Court that will help veterans in criminal difficulty access mental health care, housing, etc., while processing their criminal charges.
District Attorney Travis Page said that in his 12 years practicing law in Gaston County, he has seen veterans in district court for impaired driving, as well as drug possession and domestic violence.
“I can’t tell you the exact number of cases, but I can tell you it’s present. It’s something we can’t ignore and we need to act on it,” Page said.
The most common case of veteran involvement in the Gaston County justice system recently was that of Joshua Rohrer, a then-homeless veteran who was arrested by Gastonia police in a dispute that went viral. Rohrer was charged with resisting arrest and begging for money near the Gastonia Target store on October 13, 2021, and Rohrer’s service dog, Sunshine Rae, was hit by a car and killed while in prison.
About a year later, Rohrer pleaded guilty to an unrelated trafficking charge, the other charges were dismissed, and he was sentenced to two years probation and admitted to Catawba County Veterans Treatment Court, which sought to put him in touch with a salary for his position. – traumatic stress disorder.
It was during a meeting with a local veterans group after Rohrer’s arrest that Page learned of the Catawba County Veterans Treatment Court.
“The reason we’re starting is because we see a lot of our veterans who go out and serve and go home, they come home with a list of issues, mental health issues, PTSD, and then they heal themselves,” Page says. “We see substance abuse issues in our courtrooms. We also see some acts of domestic violence. We seek to provide better service to the surrounding community, prevent crime by addressing these issues, and reimburse a debt to these veterans for their service.”
“They gave us so much of themselves and sacrificed themselves. It’s only right that we connect them with the resources and treatment they need,” Page added.
Rohrer said in an interview Wednesday that he has yet to have his first session in Catawba County Veterans Treatment Court, but is scheduled to appear on Thursday, Nov. 10. But, he said, he was lucky enough to see the veterans. Treatment court and he liked what he saw.
“I watched the court once last year, when they told me about it, and like I said, they were all veterans: the judge was a veteran, the prosecutor was a veteran, the prosecutor is a veteran,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. When you get up there they cheer you on and cheer you on. The judge is down on your level. He’s not on the podium or anything. You’re all on the same level and you’re all on the floor together. It’s not as intimidating as a regular courtroom because they’re there to help you.
Veterans who qualify for the program are essentially placed on probation, Page said, but “it’s more intense. It’ll be more hands-on. These people will appear before a judge more frequently, maybe even several times a month.” , he said. “They’ll be working with clinicians, with social workers. It’s basically a phased program.”
Gaston County looks to Catawba County for guidance when planning Veterans Processing Court operations.
Catawba County, under District Attorney Scott Reilly, opened a Veterans Treatment Court about a year ago. Currently, 20 veterans serve on the Catawba County Treatment Court.
Reilly said the most important component of their Veterans Treatment Court are the mentors who are veterans themselves. These mentors “listen to them, help them when they get lost, make sure they get to their appointments,” Reilly said.
“That’s the main element that’s different from just a drug recovery court, plus the added formality of a military atmosphere,” Reilly said.
Page said Gaston County is looking for veterans who may be interested in mentoring other veterans through the treatment court.
“These veterans, yes they are in the program, but we expect them to struggle while they are in the program with these issues. They need someone to turn to, that they can call in the middle of the night, which can take them away from a negative situation, back into their recovery,” Page said.
Page said the ultimate goal of the program is rehabilitation.
“We’re looking to prevent future crime, reduce substance abuse issues, DWIs in the community. By addressing those issues and correcting them, I think we’re optimistic or hopeful that we can achieve those goals,” Pages said. “Ultimately, if someone is successful in the program, it could ultimately result in their criminal charges being dismissed. We want to set these veterans up for success.”
US Army veteran Danny Caudill said post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by veterans can cause a ripple effect of problems in their lives. A treatment court that specifically addresses those needs is a good thing, he said.
“A civilian doesn’t understand the differences between what this veteran went through and what he’s going through. I’ve heard some people say they don’t understand why the focus is on veterans,” said- he declared. “That wartime veteran thing, coming back with PTSD, is that extra piece of the puzzle that makes things exponentially worse.”
He said addiction, something he himself has struggled with, is also difficult, and many don’t understand it.
“People just don’t understand how difficult it is to be in this position,” he said. “My addiction lasted for years. The recovery started long before I was done with these opioids. … The last two years of my opioid addiction, I didn’t even abuse it, I just took what my doctor gave me.”
He said he managed to recover from his addiction, but not everyone is so lucky.
“I was able, through my own willpower and resources, I was able to end that addiction. Not everyone has that. When you don’t have that stream of support, when you don’t you don’t have a family that can guide you and help you, you don’t even realize how lost you are until it’s too late,” he said. “Any piece of this puzzle that we can offer, I’m on the front line to help make it happen.”
The Catawba County program is funded by $350,000 in federal grants, Reilly said.
Page said Gaston also plans to seek grants for his program.
“Some of these grants open up in the spring. We would like to have our policy or our procedures in place, and really have this tribunal framework in place before these grants are available,” Page said.
Journalist Kara Fohner can be reached at 704-869-1850 or [email protected]