November 10, 2019
Collin County VALOR Program Gives Incarcerated Veterans Another Chance
Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner with VALOR participants//photo courtesy VALOR
Each grueling day starts at 4 a.m. and finally ends at 10:30 p.m., seven days a week for a handful of armed forces veterans incarcerated at Collin County Jail in McKinney. They might have made poor choices in the past, but they are now getting another chance to turn around their lives through VALOR, a one-of-a-kind state-funded program in Collin County.
VALOR, or Veterans Accessing Lifelong Opportunities for Rehabilitation, is a year-old in-custody program that offers veteran-specific treatment for felony/misdemeanor offenders who are facing incarceration or probation revocation.
Judge John R. Roach, Jr., 296th Judicial District Court, presiding judge of the North Texas Veterans Court and a Marine Corps veteran himself, realized for several years that there was a gap in services for justice-involved veterans.
“For example,” Judge Roach explained, “I would have veterans in Veterans Court that would not follow the rules, continue to use illegal substances and not show up to treatment. No matter what I did as a judge, the veteran would not comply.”
So he started looking for an alternative program where he could send resistant veterans to a jail setting, but at the same time, help them receive treatment for veteran-specific issues such as mental health, brain injury, PTSD and substance abuse – and hopefully prevent repeat offenses through treatment. There was nothing like that in existence.
“So I set out to create one,” he added. “I worked with the Collin County Probation and Sheriff’s Offices to find the space. I worked with my program manager to design a mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment program that rivaled any program in the country. The VALOR program is just that – an in-custody rehabilitation program for veterans from across the state. The program fills a huge gap that had been previously missed.”
Many of the veterans could face up to 10 years in prison if they do not successfully receive more treatment options, such as the services provided by VALOR, according to Brennan Jones, program coordinator.
“We understand our brothers and sisters and can take it from a very home-grown perspective,” explained Brennan, a 12-year veteran of the Marine Corps.
She researched curriculum and programs from across the nation for treatment and therapy ideas. Brennan decided to incorporate art, music therapy, parenting skills and yoga, among other activities, into the program as treatment instruments.
“If the participants were not in treatment,” Brennan continued, “many would not be exposed to these activities to help the process [of rehabilitation].”
Judge John R. Roach, Jr. and Sheriff Jim Skinner
However, there is much more to the treatment process. Morning hours are devoted each day for participants to be involved in work crews, whether cleaning up cemeteries, roadsides or piles of debris. The afternoons and evenings are used to provide counseling and therapy treatment. Each morning begins with Reveille and hygiene, but at 10 p.m., TAPS sounds and soon the lights go out after a long day.
“The program is progress-based,” she said, “so those butting heads stay longer.”
Participants can be incarcerated in the county jail for four-24 months, but must report to Judge Roach in Veterans Court each month.
On October 11, one VALOR participant graduated the program and avoided serving a prison sentence for his fifth DWI. He was recognized by the leaders of the program for giving 110% to VALOR and was therefore allowed to return to his family in Hidalgo County in South Texas. Residents of all counties in Texas are eligible to participate in VALOR, which is open to both men and women.
Misty Ely, clinical director of VALOR who served nine years in the Marine Corps, said the program is a grassroots project in which the founders of the program essentially created every aspect of the treatment from scratch.
“It was a lot of work, but it was worth it,” she said.
One success story Misty likes to reference is about a Marine Corps veteran in his late 20’s who left the military and became addicted to opioids. Unable to get sober on his own, he later turned to heroin to escape from the issues after losing his wife and children. Through VALOR, a role model inspired him to get sober. The veteran recently reconnected with his family and enrolled in community college.
“It’s okay to not be okay and ask for help,” Misty added.