In response to: Veterans court may be collateral damage in immigration fight
By ANDREW SELSKY yesterday
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Three decades ago, Lori Ann Bourgeois was guarding fighter jets at an air base. After her discharge, she fell into drug addiction. She wound up living on the streets and was arrested for possession of methamphetamine.
But on a recent day, the former Air Force Security Police member walked into a Veterans Treatment Court after completing a 90-day residential drug treatment program. Two dozen fellow vets sitting on the courtroom benches applauded. A judge handed Bourgeois a special coin marking the occasion, inscribed with the words “Change Attitude, Change Thinking, Change Behavior.”
The program Bourgeois credits for pulling her out of the “black hole” of homelessness is among more than three dozen Oregon specialty courts caught in a standoff between the state and federal government over immigration enforcement.
The Trump administration in 2017 threatened to withhold law enforcement grants from 29 cities, counties or states it viewed as having “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Today, all those jurisdictions have received or been cleared to get the money, except Oregon, which is battling for the funds in federal court.
The Veterans Treatment Court in Eugene and 40 other specialty courts, including mental health and civilian drug programs, risk losing all or part of their budgets, said Michael Schmidt, executive director of Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, which administers the money.
The commission has managed to keep the courts funded through July, Schmidt said. Unless the Trump administration relents or is forced by court order to deliver the money, or the Oregon Legislature comes up with it, the commission must make “horrible, tough decisions” about where to make the cuts, Schmidt said.
Speaking in her small office in the Eugene courthouse, specialty courts coordinator Danielle Hanson said if the veterans court budget is cut, the vets would have to start paying for drug treatment, and they would be deprived of housing resources and travel funds to go to residential treatment facilities as far as 330 miles (530 kilometers) away. Some veterans might even be turned away.
“It would impact the program substantially,” Hanson said.
Two dozen former servicemen and women are currently going through the rigorous program that lasts a minimum of a year, and usually up to a year and a half. They must attend group sessions three times a week, come to court at least once a week — presided over by Judge Valeri Love, who acts as their commanding officer — submit to regular urinalysis tests, and show progress. Graduates can have convictions cleared and avoid prison.
“The Veterans Treatment Court creates a routine and a regimen that many vets can thrive in. It pulls them out of isolation,” said Michael Hajarizadeh, who represents the vets as a public defender. Many have post-traumatic stress, but the common thread is substance abuse, said Hajarizadeh, who himself is an Army veteran of the Afghanistan war.
He said the support structure and the bond vets feel for each other make the system work.
Bourgeois looked healthy and confident and wore a radiant smile as she accepted the coin on March 7 and shook Love’s hand. It was a sharp contrast to when Bourgeois was arrested in a homeless camp on Aug. 31, 2017 — her 50th birthday.
“This is my first time not being homeless in seven years,” Bourgeois said, blinking back tears behind metal-framed eyeglasses. “It is a BIG milestone.”
Bourgeois served in the Air Force Security Police, now called Security Forces, for four years, until 1991. A back injury resulted in dependence on prescription painkillers, escalating to other drugs.
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