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Veterans treatment court adds three more graduates

Veterans treatment court adds three more graduates
Veterans treatment court adds three more graduates
Mickey Utz talks about his experience with the South Central Veterans Treatment Court during a graduation program Thursday. Listening, from left, is Harrison Superior Judge Joseph (Joe) Claypool, program coordinator Jessica Houchin and Utz’s mentor, Glenn Thienel. Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor
Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, Editor, [email protected]

Three additional veterans have graduated from the South Central Veterans Treatment Court, the dual-county initiative, for Harrison and Washington counties, funded through a grant from the Indiana Dept. of Corrections.

Those new graduates — James McClure, Mickey Utz and Michael Vermillion, all from Harrison County, and Craig Stone of Washington County — were recognized during a program Thursday evening at Unity Chapel United Methodist Church near Ramsey.

Each graduate was presented by a mentor and given the opportunity to say a few words.

Utz said the program allowed him to get back into some of the “core values” he believes in. He thanked the entire team involved in the program, which includes program coordinator Jessica Houchin, Harrison Superior Judge Joseph (Joe) Claypool, Washington Circuit Judge Larry Medlock, the sheriff, prosecutor and probation departments in both counties, Hoosier Hills PACT, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, LifeSpring, Our Place, the Vet Center and the mentors, and expressed appreciation to his wife and son for “going through” the program with him.

“He’s very passionate about helping other people,” said his mentor, Glenn Thienel.

McClure said he’s never been happier than since completing the program.

“The program works,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for (the team),” which includes his mentor Dennis Leftwitch.

Vermillion credited the program with saving his life. As part of the process, a medical test revealed he was diabetic.

“It saved my life,” he said, adding he now has the life he’s always wanted.

Phil Williams, Vermillion’s mentor, said, not only did Vermillion gain control of his diabetes, he now has a steady income, thanks to a job with a Fortune 500 company, and has his own home.

The program was started in 2016 following about three years of planning to greatly reduce recidivism for veterans who have been charged with a crime. The program is designed to help them become productive members of society. And if the program is fully completed through graduation, the individual receives a significantly reduced or mitigated agreement and can enter the program from the other side, as a mentor or in another role.

It typically takes 12 to 24 months to complete the program. In rolling out the program in 2016, Claypool described it as “boot camp” for the veterans, who go through three phases: initially getting their feet under them, then treatment and, finally, some responsibility and stability.

Claypool said it was challenging to continue the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veterans must be approved to enter the program, meeting a treatment need — whether it be PTSD, alcohol, drug or anger issues — and then given the opportunity to sign off and enter into the program.

Guest speaker for the graduation program was Troy D. Kok, a retired major general who leads the Army Reserve Accessions Task Force at Fort Knox, Ky.

He shared about how he had grown up in an “alcoholic home” during the 1960s and acquired his own love for the taste and smell of alcohol despite vowing, when he was about 11, to never be like his mother, who had a drinking problem.

However, Kok told how drinking allowed him to be something he wasn’t, including more confident. While in college, he was charged with driving under the influence, not once, but twice. He eventually joined a 12-step program, where he met “some wonderful people” who told him the truth about his situation.

“I needed that tough love,” he said.

Kok said he still work with a lot of people in the 12-step program that taught him how to be a human being, how to be a better person and allowed him to move forward with his life.

“I don’t want to forget where I came from,” he said.

Kok wished the new graduates the best in their future recovery efforts, telling them it comes down to “what are you willing to do and not do” to lead a crime-free life.

In introducing Kok, Mark Blessinger said Kok didn’t teach him anything during the 2-1/2 years he worked with him at Fort Knox. Instead, “he showed me,” he said.

Blessinger called Kok, who served 38 years in the military, “the real deal.”

In closing remarks, Medlock said he became involved in the program as a way to give something back to the veterans.

“What I found has humbled me,” he said. “You guys (the staff and participants) are the ones who do all the hard work.”

For more information about the veterans treatment court or to volunteer, email Houchin at [email protected] or call 812-844-1663.