Unforgettable Vet Court Con Closing Ceremony
After two days, 104 training sessions and over 200 hours of education, the historic first annual Vet Court Con wrapped up with an incredible Closing Ceremony. The event opened with a short documentary profiling volunteer veteran mentors of the Orange County Combat Veterans Treatment Court:
The event opened with a special ceremony to present Justice For Vets awards on two individuals who helped bring about this momentous occasion. NADCP Board Chair Keith Starrett, CEO West Huddleston and Justice for Vets Senior Director Melissa Fitzgerald inducted Judge Robert Russell into The Justice for Vets Hall of Fame. Judge Russell created the nation’s first Veterans Treatment Court in Buffalo, NY and has helped spread the model throughout the nation. He said, “I am grateful today for your service and for the fact that it has been embraced in your heart that we can make a difference. Thank you.”
Next up, The Hank Pirowski, Jr. Award was presented to Jack O’Connor for his efforts as Mentor Coordinator in the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court. A combat veteran, Mr. O’Connor has been instrumental in building volunteer veteran mentor programs in Veterans Treatment Courts all over the country.
Left: Melissa Fitzgerald, West Huddleston and Judge Keith Starrett present Judge Robert Russell with his Hall of Fame Induction. Right: Jack O'Conner accepts The Hank Pirowski Award in front of 89 graduates of the Justice For Vets Mentor Corps Boot Camp.
As the first graduates of the Justice For Vets Mentor Corps lined up in front of the stage, O’Conner told the crowd, “I realize why we are mentors. We not only save the veteran, we save the family, the Mom and Dad, Grandparents and children. That my friends, is why we are mentors.”
Attendees then witnessed a spectacular site as the former Director of Justice for Vets, Matt Stiner, swore-in the Justice For Vets National Mentor Corps. The men and women of the Mentor Corps had completed an intense two days of training and were prepared to head back to their communities to serve as volunteer mentors in Veterans Treatment Court. Read more about the Justice For Vets Mentor Corps here.
The first clas of the Justice For Vets Mentor Corps is sworn in.
Major General Butch Tate, former Deputy Judge Advocate General, currently in transition from active duty with the US Army took the stage to show his support for Veterans Treatment Courts. Major General Tate then turned the stage over to Will Gunn, the General Counsel for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Left: Major General Butch Tate delivers remarks. Right: VA General Council Will Gunn offers his support.
The new Senior Director of Justice for Vets, Melissa Fitzgerald introduced Veterans Treatment Court Graduate Nick Stefanovic. After three tours of duty, Nick found himself addicted to painkillers and in trouble with the law. Fortunately, he was given the opportunity to participate in the Rochester, NY Veterans Treatment Court. “The day before I was in VTC I was living in my car. Today, I am in grad school, I got a job, I bought a house, I have a family, all of these things I never would have had without Veterans Treatment Court.”
Watch Nick Stefanovic's full remarks:
Nick had the honor of introducing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey. General Dempsey spoke about transitioning veterans from war to peace and the role of the community in assisting with reintegration. He told the audience that veterans need reintegration assistance from their communities and that Veterans Treatment Courts are a prime example of veterans and civilians working together to build better communities.
Watch General Dempsey's full remarks:
The grand finale of the Closing Ceremony were remarks from Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who was on hand to receive the Justice For Vets Congressional Leadership Award for her commitment to veterans. A combat veteran, Rep. Gabbard spoke about her support of Veterans Treatment Courts. “I am privileged to be here today to count myself as a supporter. Know that we look forward to supporting your work at every level: county, state, federal, the nonprofit community, and the community at large. It takes all of us coming together to serve our veterans to make sure that they can continue to serve all of us.”
Left: Melissa Fitzgerald presents Rep. Tulsi Gabbard with the Justice For Vets Congressional Leadership Award. Right: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard thanks attendees for their service to veterans.
Browse Pictures of the Closing Ceremony: