Vet Court Con Kicks off with Historic Opening Ceremony
Judge Robert Russell, founder of the nation’s first Veterans Treatment Court in Buffalo, NY officially opened the conference. “Someday soon, when there is a Veterans Treatment Court within reach of every single veteran in need, we will look back on today as the moment we turned the corner,” he told the crowd. The success of Veterans Treatment Courts was evident in the testimony of Cpl. Eric Gonzales, who told his inspiring story. Eric served his country but came home and struggled with PTSD. He got a DUI, and wound up almost having the freedom that he fought for taken away. Thanks to Veterans Treatment Court, today he is happy and healthy and will soon graduate from college. “I will have a lifelong debt of gratitude for this program,” he said.
Left: Judge Robert Russell welcomes attendees. Right: Eric Gonzalez tells his inspiring story.
Watch Eric Gonzalez tell his story:
General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey Chairs the NADCP Veterans Treatment Court Committee and served as the nation’s Drug Policy Czar from 1996-2001. The champion for Veterans Treatment Courts was on hand to show his support for the people who work day in and day out on behalf of veterans. “We are here to train each other, to learn how to institutionalize and maintain this spectacular concept,” he said.
Left: General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey delivers remarks. Right: General Eric Shinseki shows the VA's support for Veterans Treatment Courts.
He then introduced the days keynote speaker, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs General Eric Shinseki. Secretary Shinseki gave a powerful addresses advocating support for Veterans Treatment Courts. Secretary Shinseki told of his first visit to Veterans Treatment Court. “The power of the Veterans Court concept is clear, undeniable, and compelling. Since that visit, the VA has been your full partner, agreeing to bring all of our capabilities to bear wherever a judge decided to establish a Veterans Treatment Court.”
Watch Secretary Shinseki's full remarks:
For those in the room, hearing such praise from the leader of the VA was a powerful affirmation of their work with veterans. Following Secretary Shinseki’s remarks, NADCP CEO West Huddleston presented Alcohol Monitoring Systems CEO Mike Iiams with an award for his companies support for Veterans Treatment Courts and Justice For Vets. Veterans Advocate and former Miss America Heather French Henry delivered a stirring address sharing personal challenges of veteran relatives and staunch support for Veterans Treatment Courts.
Left: AMS CEO Mike Iiams explains why his company is involved with Veterans Treatment Courts. Right: Heather French Henry explains why she believe Veterans Treatment Courts are vital to this nation.
Before the Opening Ceremony came to a close, attendees were introduced to Melissa Fitzgerald, the new Senior Director of Justice for Vets. Fitzgerald gave a rousing speech. “We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history,” she said. “We have to decide as a nation how we are going to take care of our veterans. Will we make room for them in our hearts or will we make room for them in our prisons?” Fitzgerald discussed the need for immediate Veterans Treatment Court expansion and her role in bringing this about. “My job is to spread this message far and wide. To make sure you have the resources you need to continue your life-saving work, and I will fight everyday to put a Veterans Treatment Court within reach of every single veteran in need.”
Watch Melissa Fitzgerald's full remarks:
Fitzgerald then introduced Col. David Sutherland (Ret.), who has served as special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is the Co-Founder and Chairman of Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Community Services. Col. Sutherland delivered a presentation that left most in the audience with tears in their eyes. He told several stories of servicemen and women whose commitment to country did not end when they came home. He spoke about the tremendous benefit veterans offer this nation when they return home. “I fought for my family, my neighbor and my community, and I come home to my family, my neighbor and my community. When [The American public] forgets about the war, we can never allow them to forget about our veterans and our military families."
Left: Col. David Sutherland closes out the Opening Cermeony. Right: Col. David Sutherland, Melissa Fitzgerald and Gen. (ret) Barry McCaffrey
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