Veterans finish program to avoid Butler County jail
One year ago, Todd McCormick found himself in the Butler County Prison over two arrests for drunken driving.
“I made some bad decisions. I dealt with my problems and pain with alcohol. I was in a constant state of pain,” McCormick said.
On Thursday, the first anniversary of his sobriety, McCormick, who served twice in Iraq with the Marines, reached another milestone.
He became one of the first three graduates of Butler County's Veterans Treatment Court, established one year ago to help veterans convicted of nonviolent offenses avoid jail time.
About 200 people attended the sometimes-emotional graduation ceremony, held in the Butler County Courthouse.
The arrests that bring veterans before the special court are almost always related to alcohol or drug problems, said Common Pleas Judge Tim McCune, who presides in veterans court.
Many have turned to drinking and drugs because of traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, said Brad Schaffer, VA Butler Healthcare's Veterans Justice Outreach coordinator.
“I did not know where else to go. I was in jail. My family and friends were fed up with me,” said McCormick, 28, of Mars, a car mechanic.
There are 17 counties with veterans treatment courts, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. They include Allegheny, Beaver, Fayette and Washington counties.
“The number of veterans courts has been growing. It's a testament to courts wanting to assist veterans who are charged with nonviolent offenses. It reduces cost of incarceration, provides benefit to the community and provides treatment to the individual,” said Art Heinz, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
The four-phase, yearlong program puts participants through an intense combination of drug and alcohol treatment. They work with a mentor. In the early phases, they must make weekly appearances in court with VA Butler Healthcare staff and enroll in programs designed to get them housing, work or an education.
“It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, worse than basic training was when I went into the Marines,” McCormick said.
Jeffrey Cunningham entered the program after being arrested for theft. He'd been homeless for three years and drank heavily.
“I severed all ties with a society I did not think cared for me,” Cunningham, a Navy veteran, told the graduation audience.
Cunningham said he had little confidence at first that he could complete the program.
“It would have been so much easier to stay in jail and do nothing,” said Cunningham, 47, of Butler.
James Meacham, 54, of Butler, a Navy veteran, said he was proud to participate in a program that “shows me what I can accomplish. This program has taught me that I do not need to be alone.”
He was arrested last year for public drunkenness and attempted theft from a motor vehicle.
Participants completing the program can have charges dropped, reduced or altered, McCune said.
“Every day these guys are not sitting in jail or committing crimes, it saves all kinds of money. And it's better for them and the community,” McCune said.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com 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.
- Butler Township commissioners to consider new zoning regulations on gas well pads
- 2 votes separate GOP commissioner hopefuls
- Evans City pays tribute to its veterans
- Zelienople prepares for 175th anniversary
- Slippery Rock library gains money match to replace undersized home
- Jackson housing plan goes under over flooding concerns
- One vote now separates 2 Republican candidates for Butler County commissioner