Military Diversion: Giving veterans a second chance
Military Diversion, established in January 2016, is a pretrial program for current or former members of any branch of the United States Military charged with misdemeanor crimes. Regarding eligibility, the court must find that these defendants may be suffering from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental illness as a result of their military service. This is a collaborative program of the Probation Department, San Mateo County Superior Court, Private Defender Program, District Attorney's Office, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Participants attend court review hearings and work towards successful completion of the program by completing counseling and/or treatment and full payment of victim restitution. Upon successful completion, participants' charges are dismissed. To date, there have been 15 individuals that graduated from the program.
A noteworthy participant includes a female veteran who was admitted into the Military Diversion Program approximately six months ago. Her case stems from driving while under the influence of alcohol and driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher. This participant enlisted in the United States Navy in 1999 and was honorably discharged in 2004. As part of her treatment, she is to attend weekly mental health therapy through the Veterans Administration. This participant is a single mother of three young boys, including a pair of twins. Along with practicing yoga and exercising regularly, she works full-time as an Advanced Medical Support Assistant. Additionally, she is a full-time student pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Care Administration. Given the numerous demands this participant juggles throughout her day, she has managed and continues to fulfill her obligations to the diversion program. This participant stands out amongst others as she is the only participant in the program who is employed full-time, a full-time mother and a full-time student. Given her commitment to succeed, this participant is well on her way to successfully complete the Military Diversion Program and graduate in January 2019, thereby having her case closed and her charges dismissed.
Another memorable individual, who graduated from the Military Diversion Program in February 2018, is a veteran who enlisted in the United States Navy in 1986 and was honorably discharged in 1989. He was admitted into the Military Diversion Program in February 2017 based on three misdemeanor drug possession maters. This graduate of the program attended and completed an intensive outpatient program at the Veteran’s Affairs Campus in the Palo Alto Medical Center. He also attended at least four Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings a week including being the secretary at one of the meetings. Additionally, just prior to graduating from the program he became an AA sponsor to two individuals who also struggled with addiction. This graduate met with his therapist monthly and spoke with his AA sponsor each week. In addition and of his own volition, he volunteered twice a week, assisting disabled Veterans at the Palo Alto Veteran’s Affairs campus. This Military Diversion graduate exceeded expectations and per his own accord, had 14 months of sobriety at the time of his graduation.
The above two examples highlights some of the past and current success participants have and continue to achieve through the support of the Military Diversion Program. These participants have taken full advantage this pre-plea program offers and demonstrate that one can learn from past struggles if committed to their own wellbeing. This program is committed to assisting participants and, similar to other programs within the Specialty Courts Unit, aimed at matching San Mateo County defendants with interventions to which they are best suited, maximizing the potential for effective treatment while blending accountability.