Thurston County Veterans Court graduate shares experience

Staff writerJuly 9, 2014 

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    Anniversary celebrations will continue at 4 p.m. every Wednesday in July at County Courthouse Building Three -- District Court, 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW, Olympia. On July 16, Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza will make the presentation. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has been invited to speak at the July 23 event; and JBLM I-Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza has been invited to speak at the July 30 event.

    The events are open to the public.

Army veteran Casey Turner, 36, of Bucoda, returned from Iraq in 2007, to recover from a gunshot wound he received during a patrol in a war zone.

A month later, the rest of his unit was killed in an ambush.

“Because of my experiences in Iraq, I developed PTSD,” he said. “But instead of getting treatment, I developed a bad methamphetamine habit that eventually cost me my home and my family.”

Turner was the guest speaker on Wednesday during a special event to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Thurston County Veterans Court.

Turner graduated from the program in November. He’s now attending South Puget Sound College and has three years of sobriety.

He credits the changes in his life to Veterans Court.

“It’s really kind of a savior,” Turner said in an interview with The Olympian. “...As long as you put in the effort, they’re going to help you with everything you need.”

Thurston County Veterans Court was established on July 23, 2009, and was the 11th of its kind in the country.

Today, there are more than 160 such programs, organizers say.

It is one of six therapeutic courts that are funded by Thurston County’s one-tenth of one percent Treatment Sales Tax, and was designed to serve veterans or active duty military involved in Thurston County criminal justice who meet certain factors, such as mental health diagnosis and motivation to make lifestyle changes.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Army veteran Matt Fluetsch, 30, of Rainier, who has been in the program for about a year due to a domestic violence charge. “Just the fact that I’m able to get the care that I’ve needed to move forward.”

District court judge Brett Buckley, who presides over Veterans Court, said the goal is to hold veterans accountable for their behavior but also support them in their efforts to get sober, get treatment and find stability in their families.

“When we first introduced Veterans Court back in 2009, we were seeing more and more military veterans show up in court clearly struggling with military-related PTSD, other mental illness, and sometimes drug and alcohol addiction,” he said. “We knew that simply punishing them and churning them through the system wouldn’t address the underlying causes of their problem behavior.”

Since the program’s inception, 43 people have participated in the program, and 24 have graduated, according to a news release from Thurston County.

During Wednesday’s event, Turner recalled dark days in the fall of 2011. By then, he was medically retired due to his physical injuries, but he still hadn’t received help for PTSD.

“I was living in my truck, and my biggest worry was getting a blanket because it was getting cold out,” he said. “...My wife had become scared of me and filed a restraining order in family court.”

Turner said he violated the order, was arrested and referred to Veterans Court. He violated a no contact order again, and spent about 30 days in jail.

“I knew that I would have to take the harder road dealing with my PTSD and substance abuse if I wanted to get my life back on track,” he said. “If I continued the way I was going, I knew my life would continue to be homeless and abusing drugs.”

As part of his conditions for Veterans Court, Turner completed PTSD and substance abuse treatment programs, took a parenting class, underwent random drug tests and took a yearlong class on domestic violence.

“I felt that the people of Veterans Court were there to help me, not make my life difficult,” he said.

Turner recently signed up to serve as a mentor for the program. He’ll serve as a sounding board, and help guide participants through the program.

“This court addresses reasons behind why you might have broken the law, and they really try to help resolve those issues,” he said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton

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