Spokane North Rotary
A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary Club
October 13, 2014
Editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Photo: Eric Johnson
Program Coordinator: Jim Minkler
               A banner day:  Thanks to Lenore and Bob Romney for “stringing up” the club’s three Rotary banners, which wait staff at The Lincoln Center can now hang from ceiling clips. The banners give the Landau Conference Room a real Rotary look for our luncheons.  And long gone are the tilt-prone metal stands which dated to the last Ice Age.
               Social success: About 40 members, family and friends enjoyed the Oct. 11 chili feed social at Hidden Acres on Greenbluff.  The hayride was fun, the varieties of chili and side dishes very tasty and the comraderie evident.  A very nice event coordinated by Jodi Harland.
Vets have a new weapon in their battle to readjust                
               When wartime experiences lead to legal difficulties for veterans who have returned home, Spokane has a special agency to help them through the trauma.
               The Spokane Veterans Forum provides mentoring, educational and therapeutic services to vets referred by the Spokane Veterans Court and other courts.  Often the vets suffer from post-traumatic stress or brain injuries and sometimes military sexual trauma, Fred Aronow, the Vets Forum director, told the club Oct. 13.

               Aronow, a retired Army infantry colonel who served in the Vietnam War, said the special program dates to 2008, when a Buffalo, N.Y., judge suggested an alternative to traditional trial and sentencing protocols.
               With more vets from Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters of war surviving battlefield wounds – physical and mental – “PTSD became the wound of the week” to some, Aronow said.  “But that’s not true.  These issues have been around a long time.”
               When a Veterans Court was started in Olympia, Spokane District Court Judge Vance Peterson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, started a similar vets’ court here.  Spokane now has the largest Veterans Court in the nation, said Aronow, who serves as a judge pro tem for the court.
               “The idea is to divert defendants in most misdemeanor cases, and it’s geared to get them into therapy instead of completing their sentences with jail time,” Aronow said.
               He adds that the diversion is not done “just because the judge thinks it’s a good idea.  We have to convince the prosecuting attorney, the clerk and the private bar.”
               So veterans whose cases reach court can be tried in the Veterans Court or in another court and referred to the Veterans Forum, often for two years, as part of their sentencing, and often as part of a plea bargain.
               The vets contact their assigned mentors weekly and meet monthly at a training center near Spokane Community College, where they share a meal followed by two hours of adjustment training, Aronow said.
               He said the forum provides a therapeutic environment with veterans sharing their war stories and getting counseling from “community partner” Ph.D. faculty members from Gonzaga, Whitworth and Eastern Washington universities.  They help participants work through “the stigma attached to getting a mental disorder,” Aronow said.   Volunteer financial advisers help with those elements of readjustment.
               One vet was a marine “flame-throwing guy” in the first wave of troops landing at Iwo Jima.  Another was a Bataan Death March survivor, who was placed on a Japanese troop ship headed for a POW camp.  The boat was sunk by a U.S. torpedo and the veteran was rescued by “a friendly native in a canoe,” Aronow said.
               But their war stories, he added, while impressive, were not as important as the veterans’ discussions of “the next 50 years dealing with life, kids and other challenges.”
               “Veterans have to go every month, watch others and account for what they have done,” Aronow said, adding, “it’s a place where vets can talk about things with other vets as only they will do.”
               With successful completion of the forum programs, he said, some lengths of sentences can be reduced and records can be expunged.
               The recidivism rate among vets in the program is just 5 percent, Aronow said.
               The Veterans Court idea now encompasses Stevens County (“a veterans-dense area”) and “we are working on adding Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston,” Aronow said.
               The special court and all-volunteer forum survive only on grants and donations, he said, noting that a $400,000 Justice Department grant helped start the program.