ShareThis Page

Butler County veterans court graduates 3, with growth expected in future

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
James G. Meacham (center) is introduced as Jeffrey A. Cunningham (left) and Todd M. McCormick make up the first graduation class for the Butler County Veterans Court on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. The first graduation class for vets promotes sobriety, recovery, and stability. Butler County is home to about 18,000 veterans.

Butler County's veterans court has completed its first year, and officials are expecting the need for it to grow.

“We've been told to expect more and more vets coming back from Afghanistan,” said Brad Schaffer, VA Butler Healthcare's Veterans justice outreach coordinator.

Last week marked a milestone for the court, which graduated its first three veterans on Thursday.

The court works to help veterans who run afoul of the law by putting them into treatment and keeping them out of jail. The arrests, Schaffer said, are almost always tied to drug or alcohol problems. Many in the program turned to drinking and drugs as a result of traumatic brain injuries or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he said.

Jeffrey Cunningham, 47, of Butler, a Navy veteran, is among the first group of vets completing the program.

“There are numerous people here I can't possibly pay back. They saved my life over the last year,” said Cunningham, who had been drinking and was homeless.

The treatment court now has 21 people in the program.

“We want to help them this way. We owe this to people who have served the country in this way,” said Butler County Chief Judge Tim McCune, the county's former district attorney, who supervises the court.

Among the types of offenses that can steer vets into treatment court are drunken driving, simple assaults, property offenses, domestic disputes and selling small amounts of illegal drugs. Once the program has been completed, charges may be dropped or reduced. Each case is considered individually.

The four-phase program provides an intense combination of drug and alcohol treatment and a mentor. In the early phases, the veteran must make weekly appearances in court with VA staff and participate in programs designed to get them housing, work or to enroll them in school.

“Traditional courts are punitive. This is a problem-solving court. There are a lot of supportive services connected with this court,” Schaffer said.

The average age of participants is 40, though the range varies.

The program includes several Vietnam veterans who are in their 60s.

The first specialized veterans treatment court began in January 2008 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Twenty of Pennsylvania's 67 counties have established veterans courts, also including Allegheny and Fayette counties.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.