New court to focus on veterans' issues

FORSYTH — Officials in Forsyth and Monroe County are seeing a disturbing trend: veterans with mental health issues getting into trouble by breaking laws.

They hope a new program will help veterans work through whatever issues they are having before the crimes they commit become more serious.

Officials from the city and county, working with the Forsyth-based veterans organization Hope 4 Heroes, announced Thursday that a new veterans’ court will begin next month. Run as part of the county’s Drug Court, the new court will focus specifically on veterans’ issues.

“It’s a problem-solving court,” said Judge Bill Fears of Monroe County, who oversees the court. “We want to help them adjust to life (after their military service). We want to give them some help and some structure. ... We want to make sure they are getting transportation for treatment, help them with their housing, social services.

“We’re seeing more and more veterans with problems. It didn’t seem to be an issue five years ago. But now with the conflicts (in Iraq and Afghanistan), we’re seeing more and more men and women with no guidance.”

Penny Wilson, who founded Hope 4 Heroes, knows firsthand the help veterans need when they return stateside. Wilson’s oldest son, Thomas, was a Marine serving in Iraq in 2003 when he sustained brain trauma that led to post traumatic stress disorder.

When Wilson visited her son at the veteran’s hospital in Dublin, most of the beds were occupied by Vietnam veterans, and there were few resources available for veterans of the current conflicts overseas.

“My concern was, Dublin is an hour-and-a-half away and my concern was most of the veterans wouldn’t self-report to the hospital,” she said. “Where were they going to go?”

Wilson started Hope 4 Heroes to give veterans a place to come for assistance, from help getting their benefits to getting counseling to dealing with traumas from war.

“We want to help them with their transition into civilian life,” said Wilson, who has doctorates in both counseling and theology. “We want to make sure they are reintroduced into civilian life and can become productive citizens.”

Fears gave Wilson the credit for helping put everything together.

“If it weren’t for Penny Wilson, we wouldn’t have this,” he said. “She’s been the driving force.”

While Hope 4 Heroes provides help for veterans from anywhere in Georgia, the veterans court will serve Monroe, Butts and Lamar counties — the same three counties the drug court serves.

“Our mandate is to treat those in our circuit,” Fears said.

“But we hope it becomes a model for other judicial circuits (around Georgia.)”