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Tulsa County Alternative Court Marks 10 Years of Helping Veterans

Matt Trotter

Tulsa County Veterans Treatment Court was the first of its kind when it started with 12 former service members 10 years ago.

Today, more than 200 veterans have completed VTC, avoiding prison and receiving help with addiction and mental illness. The Community Service Council and Judge Rebecca Nightingale recognized the court's anniversary Monday before taking up the day's docket.

Army veteran Roady Landtiser is one of the VTC graduates. Landtiser's case started in criminal court.

"In a regular court, I felt like I was just a number. You know, they called off my number, 'CF blah, blah, blah, blah.' And VTC, Judge [Nightingale], she makes you feel like a human, like you’re an individualized person. Like, she really strives to get to know you," Landtiser said.

Landtiser said without VTC, he would have gone to prison for 10 years. He said today, he’s more aware of how to handle his PTSD and gets to see his son again.

Veterans in the program are connected with mentors like Navy veteran Sandy Bingaman, who help them navigate the court and offer accountability and support.

"They have seen some tremendous things. A lot of them suffer from PTSD. A lot of them, because of the PTSD, are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and that’s what gets them into trouble," Bingaman said.

VTC is for former service members charged with certain felonies and misdemeanors. Alternative Courts Program Director Tammy Westcott said inadequate funding is just one challenge she hopes state lawmakers address.

"I think judges should be able to plead people into these courts and not have the gatekeeper in one entity. Also, I think we need to open up the crimes that are allowed in these courts, not make it so restrictive," Westcott said.

According to the Community Service Council, 89 percent of participants finish VTC, which takes at least 18 months.