New treatment court recruiting volunteers to mentor veterans

LIHUE — Kauai veterans seeking to immerse themselves back into society may soon have a support system.

The Veterans Treatment Court is designed to meet the challenges faced by those who have struggled to move past the mental and physical aspects of warfare.

It’s a partnership between the courts, the county, veterans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said Serena Trehern, veterans mentor coordinator.

“The difference with this court from the rehabilitation court and other courts like that is that there are mentors involved,” she said. “My main job is to help recruit, train and provide support for the volunteering mentors.”

Veterans will receive one-on-one attention with a volunteer, who is also a combat veteran. Pairing veterans with veterans allows for better communication and a way to vent frustrations or problems, Trehern said.

“It’s designed to be a small court so that each veteran gets the individual attention that they need,” Trehern said.

Spreading awareness of the problems that veterans suffer through is crucial, said Edward Kawamura, president of the Kauai Veterans Council.

“Right now, it’s kind of preliminary,” Kawamura said. “But they’re working on the process of getting (the court) together. I think it’s very critical (to have this court). If someone has PTSD and if people don’t understand that, then they’re just going to be treated like every other person.”

“Which gives these veterans the interpersonal relationship they need because they’ll have a mentor who has gone through similar situations and come out of them,” said Tammo Mori, judiciary communications director.

Amimoto and Trehern hope the court will start in December, which is why they’re beginning to recruit mentors here.

“Most programs start because of a need, and we saw a need that there were veterans coming through the system that weren’t being given the full attention that the services could provide,” Amimoto said.

Trehern, the only veterans mentor coordinator in the nation, is looking for Kauai to replicate the success of Oahu’s treatment court. There are about 20 mentors in Honolulu, and also mentors on Hilo, Kona, Maui and now Kauai, Trehern said.

“These are volunteers who have navigated the VA system before so they can help with getting them linked up with claim processes or invested in VA services,” Trehern said. “Or just being like a big brother in combat or battle buddies, it helps them by just talking story and going out with them. It’s just someone to be a friend and an active listener for these veterans.”

The mentor volunteers are passionate about helping other veterans succeed in life after war, said Fifth Circuit Deputy Chief Court Administrator Alton Amimoto.

In some cases, these mentor volunteers are former military personnel who experienced adjustment difficulties. Many have mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and the majority struggle with substance abuse.

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