On January 19, 2018, U.S. armed forces veterans Bobby Muckelvene, Michael Stiwinter, and Alex Watson were awarded Certificates of Achievement during the third Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court graduation ceremony.
Over the past ten years court systems across the nation have developed and implemented such courts to help our military veterans get their lives back on track. The Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court was established in response to the growing number of local veterans on court dockets with serious mental-health and substance-abuse issues.
Many veterans return home from military service with the “invisible” wounds of war. Left untreated, these injuries can lead to negative behavioral patterns that produce both psychological and physiological outcomes. Instead of punishment, the treatment program focuses on recovery for veterans suffering from various types of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), and other struggles associated with adjusting to civilian life. The program uses a non-correctional-type setting to help veterans who have committed a crime related to incidents that occurred during their time of military service.
Judge Marvin Pope, founder of Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court, believes that the Restorative Justice model of criminal justice can break the cycle of suffering. Those gains are possible by helping veterans pursue treatment and support in place of being incarcerated. Since 2015, 168 veterans have come through the Buncombe County detention center, and many of those detained have received services from the Veterans Treatment program.
The three veterans honored expressed their sentiments about how supportive and life-changing the program has been for them. Using gentle humor, graduate and U.S. Army veteran Bobby Muckelvene shared his story of a low point in his life during an adventurous day on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“Some friends and I were riding on the Parkway and got held up in a roadblock of traffic. After waiting for what seemed like hours, I decided to get out of the vehicle to stretch my legs, and take a walk in the nearby woods. I found an ol’ tree stump, and sat down to light up my crack-pipe. As I was enjoying my buzz, I looked up and saw a big black bear headed my way.”
Bobby continued, “Well, I thought to myself, this must be some really good stuff because now, I’m trippin’—’cause I know that wasn’t a bear I just saw in front of me! As I sat there smoking and looking, the bear began to stomp its feet. When it moved closer and stomped a second time, I realized this was not a hallucination.”
“I got up and looked around only to realize the tree stump I was sitting on was at the entrance to the bear’s den, and the den was filled with baby cubs! [I was] too high to move fast enough to get away, and the bear attacked me and left me with some serious injuries to one of my legs. That was a sobering moment!”
As Bobby mused and shook his head, he concluded, “It was then that I knew I had to get treatment for my stress-related illnesses. I am now healthy and sober—thanks to the collaborative efforts of this veterans treatment program.”
“Life holds many adventures, some good and some bad, which is why our Buncombe Veterans Treatment Court serves as a testament to the possibility of change when an entire community comes together to support our veterans’ recovery treatment and journey,” said Judge Pope.
The Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court’s principle partnership treatment center is currently operated by Frederick Baker, owner of NC Brookhaven Behavioral Health, himself a Vietnam War veteran who earned a Purple Heart. Participants are provided with mentors, counselors, and employment opportunities to meet their unique needs, and must remain sober and law-abiding as they go through the program.
Bernard Oliphant (U.S. Army-Ret.) serves as a mentor, and explained that if these services were available for active duty veterans it could have saved many lives. “This is an awesome program of perseverance, compliance, discipline and forgiveness,” he said.
For more information on the services provided by the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court, contact coordinator Kevin Rumley, Vet. Purple Heart, CSAC, CETP, MSW, at (828) 259-6601.