The mission of the Veterans Court Mentor Project (VCMP) is to ensure that every veteran in a Veterans Court can have a fellow veteran to act as a mentor, advocate, and ally throughout the Veterans Court mandated rehabilitative program.
Over 200 Veterans Courts have been established in the United States. Each court is unique, based on its jurisdiction, locally established eligibility criteria, and guidelines established by the presiding judge. Arizona Veterans Courts rely on cooperation and collaboration between the local criminal justice system, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Arizona Department of Veteran Services, veterans service organizations (VSOs), and community agencies in order to provide comprehensive treatment for veterans. In addition to these entities, the court may also rely on volunteer Veteran Mentors who are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and volunteer their time to assist each veteran in the criminal justice system.
The VCMP focuses on achieving efficiency by establishing a consistent process for selecting and training mentors, as well as a set of commonly accepted qualifications. The following position descriptions and training recommendations have been evolving for Arizona since 2014 and are provided to local jurisdictions to consider in their development of Veterans courts and associated mentor programs.
The Director of the Veterans Court Mentor Project (VCMP) is responsible for developing policy and processes that can be adapted for use by individual Veterans Courts in Arizona. In courts where a Mentor Program is already established, the VCMP can serve as a partner in advancing issues and coordinating training of interest to all mentor programs.
The Director is also the President of the Board for the VCMP, which is a 501(c) 3, not-for-profit organization registered in Arizona. As a 501(c) 3 it can facilitate background checks as required in Arizona Revised Statute 41-1750(G)23. In addition, the organization coordinates and funds training resources and programs on a wider, more cost-effective scale than might be accomplished by each individual Veterans Court Mentor team.
The Mentor Coordinator is responsible for developing and coordinating guidelines for conduct of the Mentor Program in his or her specific Veterans Court and is responsible to that Court. Sample guidelines can be provided on request. The Coordinator works closely with the Veterans Court Mentor Project in establishing a local Veterans Court Mentor Program. As of this writing, there are three municipal Veterans Courts in Maricopa County, the Phoenix Veterans Court, the Mesa Veterans Court and the Tempe Veterans Court. The other major Veterans Court with mentors is the Regional Municipalities Veterans Treatment Court in Tucson. The Coordinator works with the Veterans Court team and the service providers in day-to-day operations. Additional responsibilities include:
- Maintain an active presence during Veterans Court proceedings. This includes engaging veterans entering the court system, and helping to orient them to the overall Veterans Court system and the Mentor Program in particular. This interaction has proven very valuable in putting veterans at ease, since mentors are guaranteed to be veterans, and are, as volunteers, somewhat apart from the official court system. This is an opportunity to gauge the viability of pairing the veteran with a mentor, and sometimes recognize information about the individual that may not have been noted by other members of the court team.
- Recruit, screen, and select volunteer Veteran Mentors. Coordinate training and certification of mentors with the Supreme Court Certification Program or the locally approved training process.
- Maintain active coordination with the Veterans Administration (VA) Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) representatives, the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, and other community organizations supporting the Veterans Court.
- Monitor the continuing performance of mentors. Develop a best-practices feedback system and maintain open communications within the Court Mentor team.
- Sustain and evolve the Veterans Court Mentor Program through revision of the specific court guidelines and by actively seeking better ways of doing business.
The Veteran Mentor acts as a coach, a guide, a role model, and an advocate for a veteran entered into the justice system. The mentor encourages and supports the veteran participant as he or she progresses through a court-mandated rehabilitative program. This support includes actively listening to the concerns of the veteran, making general suggestions, and assisting the veteran in determining his or her needs. Regardless of professional background or training, the mentor should not assume the role of counselor or legal advisor to the participant.
The Veteran Mentor promotes and fosters, through encouragement, a “can do” attitude in the participating veteran. For example, the VA and other service organizations can report when a veteran misses an appointment. The mentor can make sure the veteran understands the appointment schedule and encourage him or her not to miss an appointment. Experience with Veterans Court programs around the country has shown that participating veterans respond more favorably to other veterans who have served and share similar experiences.
Mentors are recruited through various traditional means. In addition, a number of veterans in the court system have shown interest in “giving back” and helping with the program. They have to go through the same selection and training process as all mentors. Mentors, members of the court, and other volunteers regularly identify individuals as potential mentors. The process for becoming a mentor is as follows:
Initial Orientation and Application
Interested veterans should watch the videos and read the orientation material available in the Orientation section (required time about 1:15). This information should help individuals learn how the court works and the impact they can have on the veterans in the court system. Veterans interested in volunteering should go to the Volunteer section and submit the following:
1. Application in accordance with the directions on the website.
2. Form DD 214 documenting prior successful service in the U.S. Military, OR
3. Documentation demonstrating current status on active duty in the U.S. Military, OR
4. Documentation demonstrating current or previous successful membership in the National Guard or Reserves.
VOLUNTEER MENTOR CERTIFICATION PROGRAM
Veterans Courts are currently operating in Arizona with several new courts scheduled to begin operation in the upcoming months. National experience has demonstrated that a strong cadre of trained veterans court mentors is crucial for the successful operation of a Veterans Court. Meaningful training of these mentors not only prepares the mentors for success but it establishes confidence and credibility in the mentor program. To support these Veterans Courts, it is desirable to have an established training program which ensures veterans’ court mentors have the necessary level of knowledge to perform those duties. To accomplish this goal, the Veterans Court Mentor Certification Program is implemented. The training shall be conducted in phases with a higher level of certification being granted as each phase is completed.
Phase One: Mentor (Basic) – Completion of the following will result in certification as Mentor (Basic).
- Participate in a face to face interview with the local Veterans Court Mentor Coordinator.
- Observe a session of Veterans court and participate in an interview with a veteran in the justice system.
- Submit a completed fingerprint card for background check pursuant to ARS 41-1750(g) 23. This must be provided to the VCMP or to a local agency for submission to the Department of Public Safety.
- Complete the on-line Veterans Court Mentor Training module.
- Complete the Arizona Coalition of Military Families Navigator training (6 hours) within two months, self-schedule here.
- Receive a recommendation from the Veterans Court Mentor Coordinator.
Phase Two: Mentor – Completion of the following will result in certification as Mentor.
- Participate as a volunteer Mentor (Basic) for a minimum of six months.
- Complete a state-sponsored Mental Health First Aid Program (8 Hours), self-schedule here.
- Receive a recommendation from the local Veterans Court Mentor Coordinator.
Phase Three: Mentor Coordinator
- Participate as a Mentor (Intermediate) for a minimum of six months.
- Complete two, two hour drug awareness seminars from an approved agency.
- Obtain a certification recommendation from the local Veteran Court Mentor Coordinator.
Phase Four: Mentor Court Coordinator
- Participate as a Mentor for an additional minimum of six months.
- Receive a recommendation from the serviced Veterans Court Judge.
REVISIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Any recommendations to improve this document or any other aspects of the program should be provided to John Fuller, Arizona Director through our contact page.
This program description is currently in draft status and last revised in May 2015.