SEDGEWICK COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — The Sedgwick County Board of County Commissioners voted on Wednesday to accept a grant from the Kansas Supreme Court Office of Judicial Administration to create a Veterans Treatment Court.

The specialized court offers qualified veterans who are convicted of certain felonies related to mental illness or substance abuse the option of serving time in treatment rather than jail.

“A lot of times as mental health issues or maybe even physical issues that come from their military service that are contributing to some of the criminal decisions are making,” Deputy District Attorney Aaron Breitenbach said.

To qualify, veterans must:

  • Live in Sedgwick County.
  • Have discharged from the military honorably or under conditions other than dishonorably.
  • Be convicted of a qualifying felony resulting from a mental health or substance abuse disorder.
  • Agree to a probation term of 18 months.

Crimes of conviction cannot be:

  • Serious felonies, Levels 1-3.
  • Domestic violence, If the offender has prior felony DV convictions.
  • Any crime involving a drive-by shooting or serious bodily harm.
  • Felony sex offenses.

The model is similar to drug court. It connects people to the resources they need.

In drug court, over 50% of the people who have graduated are successful long-term. Advocates for veterans’ treatment court expect the same outcome.

The goal is to provide peer counseling, treatment, accountability and structure to a veteran struggling with mental health and addiction.

“Whether it’s for mental health or unstable housing, or PTSD or drug addiction, with these veteran services being made available to them, make them more likely to be a success on probation? The answer is we believe that the answer would be yes,” Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said.

The court will work closely with the VA to provide additional resources.

“We can put all this together at one time and move people out of the court system and the possible jail time and put them into a situation where they can be rehabilitated and move back as productive citizens,” Commissioner David Dennis said.

Dennis served as an Air Force colonel for almost 30 years and says supporting veterans is important to him.

“They’ve signed a blank check with their life and said, I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Dennis said. “And now we owe them back to make sure that as they come back out of combat or any other situation that was traumatic to them, that we can help them.”

Drug court is acting as a testament to the potential this court can be for vets.

“100% of the time, when I’ve been to drug court graduation, the people that stand up and talk say, this turned my life around,” Dennis said. “I am only alive and standing here today because of drug court. And we can do the same thing to our veterans.”

Benefits are seen for the individual and in cost.

Bennett says it costs about $29,000 per year to keep someone in jail in Kansas. Drug court is cheaper than that, and they are less likely to re-enter the court system after getting treatment.

“If you can spend less money on those people getting them out of the system and keeping them out of the system, you have a cost-benefit overall to the entirety of the criminal justice system,” Bennett said.

Bennett says very few people who commit crimes are in the right mind or sober when they do it.

Funding for the court runs through July of 2025 with a goal of making this resource permanent.

The target date to start court is July 1. It is a collaboration between these partners:

  • Sedgwick County Department of Corrections
  • Kansas Judicial Branch
  • The 18th Judicial District
  • Robert J Dole VA Medical Center
  • The Office of the District Attorney of the 18th Judicial District
  • Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office
  • Sedgwick County Public Defender’s Office-SBIDS