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Veterans Court Mentors Recognized

November 9, 2020, 8:23 PM HST
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Member of Big Island Veterans Treatment Court team Grayson Hashida welcomes people to the Mentor Appreciation ceremony on Monday. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)

Ahead of the day the nation honors its servicemen and servicewomen, the Big Island Veterans Treatment Court recognized those veterans who have committed themselves to support their brothers and sisters-in-arms fighting their own battles with addiction.

On Monday, the treatment court team gathered at Keahuolū Courthouse for a Mentor Appreciation Day. While only a handful of people were in the courtroom due to COVID restrictions, a dozen people joined the ceremony through Zoom, including Hawai‘i Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.

Treatment Court Judge Wendy DeWeese started the ceremony off by thanking the mentors, adding the mentor model helps reduce recidivism and helps those veterans who’ve struggled with substance abuse and law enforcement, rejoin society.

“We couldn’t accomplish our mission without you,” DeWeese said. “You play such an integral part in our program and are vital to their success.”

Before DeWeese was a judge she was a deputy public defender. She recalled having clients who were assigned to the program and successfully made it through. Veterans court mentors help clients with various supports such as transportation, connecting to more Veterans Affairs benefits, and PTSD.

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“I know it works because of you all,” the judge said.”It’s hard for me to express in words what you bring to this program. There’s no doubt in my mind, this program wouldn’t be a success without you.”

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Retired Maj. Gen. Clyde J. Butch Tate, chief counsel for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, joined the event via Zoom as the keynote speaker.

“It’s indeed, an honor to be with you,” Tate started.

Veterans Court, Tate said, is a coming together to work toward a solution. In his first introductions to the program, Tate quickly came to the conclusion that it was the mentors who were the “secret sauce” that made the program a success.

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“They are veterans taking care of veterans in a way no one else can,” Tate said.

Tate added mentors are a lifeline to court participants there to provide hope.

“Never underestimate the value of what you do,” he said.

Recktenwald appeared over Zoom to take a moment to recognize the mentors.

“Your selfless contributions…you’re absolutely critical to what we do,” Recktenwald said.

With the creation of veterans court in Hawai‘i, Recktenwald said, it was important that the program have a team approach.

“What has stood out unique to this court are the mentors,” he said.

Recktenwald said there are many bumps in the road for veterans moving toward sobriety.

“The key is to have people to call on who has your best interest at heart,” the chief justice said.

Deputy Prosecutor Mark Disher has been part of the veterans court team since its inception in 2014. He thanked the mentors for their service — for giving up their time to the clients in the program.

“You’re like the north start providing guidance to the clients,” Disher said.

One of the mentors and Vietnam veteran, Rick Ebenezer, appeared over Zoom. As a veteran who’s struggled himself, he said it’s an honor and privilege to serve his fellow veterans.

“What was so freely given to me is an honor to give back,” Ebenezer said.

Bill Flynn was one of the few mentors present in the courtroom. He’s been part of the veterans court team for about four and a half years.

Flynn said he’s helped four veterans — two have graduated and two went back to prison. He helps his mentees navigate the VA for medical benefits and/or compensation.

Flynn admits being a mentor time consuming and can get expensive, but he enjoys the work.

“It is worthwhile that you’re getting someone back to normalcy and being a functioning member of society,” Flynn said.

Along with Ebenezer and Flynn, the veterans court team also recognized Gaylene Hopson and Charles Sermons. Those mentors not present were John Fletcher, Roger Pickard, John Grogan and George Hickey.

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