Denver Drug Court builds new treatment track focused on veterans

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The Denver Drug Court's treatment program is split into more than a handful of individualized tracks, but until earlier this month, none catered specifically to the needs of veterans. While they make up 5 to 8 percent of the 850 people enrolled, vets remain the least likely to receive help. They're also the least likely to ask for it.

Thanks in large part to a grant through the Department of Behavioral Health, the Denver Drug Court was able to begin an individualized track in early September. The research for the program began earlier, however. On August 12, the organization tested its goal with a veterans fair, which joined the program's eligible veterans with those whose job it is to help them.

The results were surprising. The invited veterans stayed for two-and-a-half hours after the program had been explained, questions had been asked, and answers had been provided. Today, all of those who showed up are members of the track's thirty original members, who now receive individualized treatment targeted toward their military experience.

"They're indoctrinated as soldiers, and what they've been through is very different even than what others in the program might have suffered," says Kristin Wood, deputy administrator of the Denver District Court. "There's a brotherhood, a bond. They're trained to get the job done, to do whatever it takes, and those are the kind of people who really don't ask for help."

When it comes to the combination of substance abuse treatment and accountability counseling that makes up their program, Wood emphasizes "cultural competence," the requirement for the program to fit the needs.

The group of veterans enrolled in the Denver program is predominantly older; most served during the Vietnam era. The group's youngest member took part in the original Gulf War. For that reason, most of the thirty have long gone untreated.

"They're taught never to be defeated," Wood says. "To be able to walk in and say, 'I have this problem, and I need a lot of help' is unthinkable in many ways. Some had never been to a doctor or were homeless, and those are hard resources to find on your own, especially if you're inhibited from asking for help already."

Although the program comes with a minimum enrollment of thirteen months, it takes eighteen months to complete an average span. Veterans are provided with housing, vocational rehab and medical aid along with a strict accountability structure that finds them in court often.

"It's much more difficult than regular probation," Wood says, "They're required to come to court, and they discuss their progress with their entire team of case workers. By having everyone in the courtroom, there's no ability to play sides. All the players are there, and there's accountability with knowing that what's presented in court is true."

Many of the veterans who are eligible for the program don't classify themselves under the title because they haven't experienced combat. Others were completely unaware they qualify for a claim. While the realities of their situations vary widely, the program remains firmly dedicated to the common experience of belonging to the military -- and to the "cultural competence" required to understand it.

"They all have very different experiences from me," Wood says. "I've never served in combat. I've never seen war. I have no idea what that's like, but the important thing is to forget that and focus on what they have experienced."

More from our News archive: "Jason Graber deal won't get Denver Police out of releasing excessive-force files, says David Lane."

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Heather Heaton
Heather Heaton

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and I will use the proceeds from the book to help support myself.  My picture is posted, with my book descriptions, at Smashwords.  I can be contacted using email at My recently published ebook is entitled ("Her Letters from Prison:  Part 1 & Part 2", by Heather Heaton).  The ebook was published at Smashwords (  A brief description of the ebook follows:1.      Breanna tells the true story of her experiences in prison through her letters to her friend Heath.  This is a story of survival and a quest to make a better life.  The letters describe the daily shocking events of prison life involving drugs, sex, utter devastation and humiliation, anger, hopelessness, despair, and finally happiness and hope. 2.      Breanna's "truth" stands still even as the world around her trembles and burns!  Bad things do happen to good people; and Breanna is the perfect example of this truth. 3.      Breanna's inner strengths and principles eventually win out over the corruption and evil that surrounds her.  With God's help, Breanna survives the horrible experiences of prison life and regains her self-confidence and hope for a better life. 4.      "Breanna" was an inmate at Tutwiler Women's Prison from 2007 to 2009. 5.      "Breanna" benefitted from women's prison ministries and the LIFE Tech-Wetumpka state-funded self-help program. The Introduction page of the ebook follows: Introduction:The story you are about to read is true.  Unfortunately, it’s my story; 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Angela Weber
Angela Weber

I agree with Robert, drug treatment is a completely different interest than the criminal justice system. I believe this may be the cause of much corruption in the courts. If the courts were so concerned with helping veterans battle addiction, they should offer them the option to seek treatment that is of their own choosing. A uniform model of treatment does not work in every case. Not all programs are the same and not all are right for some people. I highly recommend this guide: Choose The Right Addiction Treatment

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

Drug treatment should not be being administered by the criminal justice system, and no one, veterans included, should be subjected to criminal prosecution solely because of drug use.

Your article assumes the opposite.

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