Veteran Community Initiatives holds symposium, touts benefits of Cambria County Veterans Court

Oct. 26—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Senior Judge Timothy Creany touted what he described as the "cost savings" and "life savings" benefits of Cambria County Veterans Court during the 18th annual Veteran Issues Symposium on Wednesday.

The program provides an environment in which defendants, lawyers, judges and mentors work together to assist veterans who have been arrested for lower-level crimes, which are often connected to substance-abuse issues.

Creany said recidivism for participants is in the 7% to 10% range, compared to sometimes 50% in the general population of people who commit crimes. Getting veterans into the program reduces or eliminates jail time, which has saved the county an estimated $1.75 million in the expected costs of housing inmates, according to Creany.

"The benefit here is to the veteran. The benefit is to the community. The benefit is to their family and everybody else involved," Creany said.

Cambria County Veterans Court is among the numerous subjects being discussed during the two-day symposium, hosted by Veteran Community Initiatives at Asiago's Tuscan Italian, that concludes on Thursday.

The first day dealt with "Substance Use Disorder in the Veteran Community."

"It's really important to spread the message of understanding substance-use disorder to veterans," Cambria County Drug Coalition Executive Director Natalie Kaufman said.

"We know our veteran community is often affected by PTSD, and we know that unresolved trauma leads to substance-use disorder and makes us more susceptible to substance-use disorder."

Day 2 will cover "Initiatives/Issues and Updates in the Veteran Community," including a look at VCI's new long-term care initiative.

"The main reason why we're focusing on the long-term care initiative is because we're coming across a lot of veterans, caregivers and their families who don't understand the long-term care process," said Nikki Deneen, VCI senior program specialist.

"They often have a lot of strife in the family that people are not on the same page about what they want, what their parents want, what's in the best interest for the parents and the people living through that."

VCI Director Tom Caulfield said needing to address long-term care, especially for aging Vietnam War ear veterans, is one of the many ways the issues facing veterans has changed over the years since the symposium started.

"It's a changing world," Caulfield said.

"We have to deal with them. We have veteran representatives that are out there that are getting the information, topics that you never thought of. Suicide prevention has become a big thing, also the program for long-term care. That's a real sore spot for veterans."