BULLHEAD CITY — Richard Williams was arrested in March 2016 for driving under the influence of methamphetamine.
Wesley Milbrandt suffered a psychotic episode related to post-traumatic stress disorder, and the state pressed charges against him for kicking in his mother’s door.
Both men were celebrated Monday as the first graduates of Bullhead City Veterans Treatment Court in a ceremony hosted at the City Council Chamber, 1255 Marina Blvd.
“A couple of times I felt like I wasn’t going to make it,” Williams said. “But I go to the PTSD support group for veterans and they helped me a lot. My counselor helped and I got through it.”
Williams served from 1989 to 1996, including combat in Somalia.
A Veterans Court is a problem-solving court with the objective of serving military veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental illness and/or recurring disorders through a coordinated response of the court, prosecuting and defense counsel, county attorney, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and local mental health organizations, rather than incarceration.
“It’s very exciting to see the successes,” said Melissa Solano, Bullhead City court administrator and VTC coordinator. “Both because this is the first and because we see so many of the struggles — it means something to see these gentlemen accomplish what they’ve accomplished and it means everything to be able to not leave them behind, to not let them slip through the cracks and to give back a little bit of help.”
VTC offers veterans a second chance.
“Considering this is the very first time I’ve dealt with the court system ever, it’s made a really significant impact on my life,” Milbrandt said. “A lot of the times it seemed like a negative impact simply because I have troubles with transportation, so when it would come to making meetings across town or getting to the drug testing and things, it would take considerable effort on my part to reach these places even though my charges had nothing to do with alcohol or substance abuse. It was a little perturbing.”
Milbrandt served from 2008 to 2012 and was deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010.
Williams was the first Bullhead City veteran offered the opportunity.
“It’s been a great program,” he said. “I went for 18 months and I’ve been clean the whole time, never failed a drug test and everyone was really supportive. It’s shown me there’s a different side of courts; it’s not always out to get you, they are there to help you if you put forth the effort and you want it bad enough.”
Williams said his goals for the future include giving back to the program.
“I plan to stay clean and I’m going to try to become a mentor for the program — and just live life and enjoy it,” he said.
Milbrandt said he wants to continue to move forward.
“To continue as I was and to have absolutely no involvement with law enforcement for the rest of my natural-born life,” he said.
In regular court, things can be completed in as quickly as three months, said Bullhead City Municipal Judge Peter Psareas. Veterans Treatment Court on average takes 18 months to two years to complete.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Psareas said. “We don’t expect people to be perfect and I’m sure they’ll have issues or challenges for the rest of their lives but they always know they can come back here because we’ll always have open arms for them. They are our graduates now. It’s pretty cool to have some graduates.”
The program is fully supported by Bullhead City Council, city staff, and numerous outside organizations including Southwest Behavioral, Tri-State Military Moms, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 404, Psareas said.
“We started to get involved because we felt it was an expansion of our active duty military programs,” said Cindy Frizelle, Tri-State Military Moms president. “They’re becoming our veterans. They needed help and we felt that’s where we needed to be.”
Patterned after VTC in Lake Havasu City, Bullhead City’s Veterans Court opened in April 2017.
“We’re hoping (VTC) will grow,” Psareas said. “In the short-term, I’d like to make sure we have enough resources to get people to where they need — long-term I’d like to get the resources here so that we don’t have to get anybody to anywhere except to across the street.”
The area lacks an in-patient treatment center for veterans, Psareas said. There is a short-term in-patient program in Prescott and Tucson and the closest full-service Veterans Affairs facility is in Las Vegas.
Bullhead City VTC now has 11 veterans in the program.