In Case You Missed It: Callis Recognized as National Leader on Veterans’ Issues
EDWARDSVILLE – Former Chief Judge and Congressional challenger Ann Callis was recognized as a national leader on veterans’ issues, receiving the rare honor for a political candidate of submitting an opinion piece to the Election Edition newsletter of VETERANS’ VISION. This respected bipartisan veterans' group has endorsed Callis for her long-standing record of helping struggling vets, placing her op-ed among those by governors, Cabinet members, and U.S. Senators and Representatives.
“Ann Callis’ long record on behalf of veterans distinguished her from her opponent,” noted VETERANS' VISION Political Editor, Benjamin Peoples.
The VETERANS’ VISION newsletter is circulated on a complimentary basis around the nation, including Chicago and Springfield, and is distributed as a public service. A large part of the public service is the published list of endorsements for federal office printed every two years. The VETERANS’ VISION endorses candidates based on their support of veterans’ issues as a way of compelling politicians to keep their promises to veterans and informing the American public of those who are worthy of support.
Callis’ piece in its entirety can be read below:
By Ann Callis
Our nation owes the freedoms we cherish to the veterans – past, present, and future – who serve and sacrifice for us. These brave men and women put their lives on the line around the world so that our families can rest safely at night. Of course, these service members have families of their own who experience the simultaneous anxiety and pride of having a loved one serving our nation.
I’m proud to say that I am an Army mom. My son Elliot is truly one of my biggest inspirations. He was the star quarterback on his high school football team and valedictorian of his class. When he graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., he turned down a chance at lucrative private sector jobs in New York City to pursue his dream of serving in our armed forces. It was a true honor to see him graduate from both Officer Candidate School and Army Ranger training. While it was extremely difficult to send him off to his first deployment in Kuwait last January, it was one of the happiest days of my life to welcome him home over the summer.
While I want my son and service members like him to return home safely, I also know firsthand that it can be incredibly difficult for many veterans to transition back to civilian life. That’s exactly why years before my son enlisted, I started the first Veterans’ Treatment Court in Illinois while I was Chief Judge in Illinois’ Third Judicial Circuit.
Creating the Court
I was inspired to create the Veterans’ Treatment Court in 2008 when I saw a presentation during a judicial conference on a similar court in Buffalo, New York, which goes to show you that there are great ideas out there to replicate if you are willing to listen. I couldn’t help but think of the many veterans I had seen go through the criminal justice system while I had served as a judge. Far too often, these struggling veterans would go through the court system without getting the real help that they needed. It was heartbreaking to see veterans who proudly served our country not only trying to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder but also struggling with alcohol and substance abuse that unfortunately landed them into the criminal justice system.
One of my strengths as Chief Judge was bringing diverse groups together to form coalitions, and I knew that it would take an “all hand on deck” approach to make the Veterans’ Treatment Court a reality in Madison and Bond Counties. I started by building a coalition with groups and people like the Veterans Assistance Commissioner, public defenders, criminal court judges, the office of the state’s attorney, and even the probation office. Once we brought everybody to the table, I established an aggressive timeline of 3-4 months to get the Veterans’ Treatment Court up and running.
As we created the groundwork to launch the court, we faced a number of skeptics who wondered how we would overcome the challenge of identifying veterans for our new program. We addressed this issue by making our intake process judicially driven so that judges would directly screen for veterans when all defendants would make their first appearances. Through this process, the coalition was able to build a core list of early participants.
I knew that the composition of people staffing the Veterans’ Treatment Court was going to be a critical component of its success. We knew veterans would respond better if they were interacting with other veterans who understood their service and struggles. Additionally, I wanted to make sure that veterans from different service branches worked at every major position. We were proud to launch the Veterans’ Treatment Court with a Vietnam veteran presiding as judge, a probation officer who served in the Army, a prosecutor who served in the Marines, and a public defender who served in the Navy.
The Court in Practice
With Judge Charles Romani presiding, the Veterans’ Treatment Court was established in 2009 as a diversion program for veterans charged with non-violent crimes. It was the first of its kind in Illinois and only the third in the nation. Using volunteer services and a minimal budget, the goal from the beginning of Veterans’ Treatment Court was to offer a comprehensive, holistic approach to helping veterans. We brought on board advocates and experts from a wide range of critical areas, including housing, collections, and divorce. The court even helped provide job training, interview practice, and workplace clothing for veterans. We were fortunate to have a doctor with a specialty in post-traumatic stress disorder assist from the John Cochran Department of Veterans Medical Center in St. Louis.
It wasn’t too long before word got out that something interesting was happening in Madison and Bond Counties. Local veterans would come to the courtroom and watch the proceedings because they took comfort in watching other veterans get the help that they needed. The court quickly developed a reputation for being a demanding program that would treat veterans fairly.
To this day, I still have graduates of the Veterans’ Treatment Court come up to me and share their story on how the program saved their lives. “The Veterans’ Treatment Court picked me up when I was having a tough time and helped me turn my life around,” Larry Shidler, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, recently said to me. “I know how tough it can be to return home, and I know many young people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan feel like they have nowhere to go for help. The court made me feel like somebody cares and is a place that is strict but not judgmental.”
The Results and Future
I’m proud that hundreds of veterans have gone through the program and the Veterans’ Treatment Court maintains an extremely low reoffending rate. Our focus on alterative sentencing and comprehensive treatment has made a difference for veterans trying to get their lives back on track. The program gained national recognition when it received one of six 2010 Paul H. Chapman awards from the Foundation for Improvement of Justice, which it was nominated for by local Congressman John Shimkus, a former Army Ranger himself.
I believe the Veterans’ Treatment Court we started in Illinois can be a model, not only for other courts around the country, but for the way Congress should think about serving veterans. The concept behind the court is simple: collaboration, comprehensive services, and the passion of veterans to help their fellow brothers and sisters in service. I hope programs like these can help our veterans around the country enjoy the stable, productive civilian lives they deserve.