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Local News

Santa Maria Veterans Treatment Court to Expand with Federal Grant

$350,000 in funding will be used for a new supervising probation officer and the development of a peer-mentoring program

Bill Roberts understands feeling vulnerable to danger, isolated from society and closed off from people in his life.

As a U.S. Army veteran, Roberts takes an extra bit of pride in his new role as the probation officer who supervises those enrolled in Santa Maria’s Veterans Treatment Court — created as a pilot program last November to serve justice-involved veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental-health issues or co-occurring disorders.

“I’m the eyes and ears of the court,” Roberts told Noozhawk.

The Orcutt resident has been visiting veterans daily since October, when the veterans court was able to expand its program through a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Justice Programs and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Grant funds will be used over three years to fund Roberts’ position, and to start up a peer-mentoring program within the 12- to 18-month program.

Roberts seemed a good choice to better personalize the case worker experience, which was “kind of hit or miss” in the past year because resources prevented consistent visits, said Maria Delauretis, supervising deputy probation officer.

Roberts, 44, also hopes to better relate to veterans having a rough time coming out of service.

He spent half of his three years in the army in Korea, trained as a sniper located just miles from enemy territory.

“That was kind of the whole idea behind Veterans Treatment Court,” he said. “It’s a very similar mindset. Coming back from that was difficult. Reintegrating back into society is not easy.”

Roberts is serving four veterans who are newer to the program now, with a goal of supervising more than 25 at once.

With more troops scheduled to leave Afghanistan, Roberts expects more veterans could filter into the program.

“Unfortunately … these guys are going to have a difficult time in society,” he said. “Sometimes they develop bad habits when they’re over there.”

Added guidance will come in the peer mentoring program, which hopes to attract about 15 peer mentor volunteers.

Deputy Chief Probation Officer Tanja Heitman said the veterans court is working through Good Samaritan Shelter for the mentoring aspect, which hasn’t begun yet.

The nonprofit joins a long list of collaborators, which includes the court, the Probation Department, the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, the District Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Public Defender, community-based organizations and Veteran Affairs.

“We don’t really have any history doing this sort of thing,” Heitman said. “It would be completely volunteer. Pretty much anyone going through Veterans Treatment Court would be able to benefit from the (mentoring) program.”

The federal grant transforms the pilot program into a fully implemented machine, something Roberts is grateful to be a part of.

“I’m really looking forward to helping these guys reintegrate into society. In years past, these resources weren’t available,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like unless you’ve been through it.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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