King County helps eligible veterans in criminal justice system get their lives back on track

KING COUNTY, Wash. -- The Regional Veterans Court was launched by the King County District Court in 2012 to assist veterans caught up in the criminal justice system. The program has served 415 veterans in King County who had a criminal charge.

“We try to service vets who are involved in the system by addressing the underlying issues that may have caused them and contributed them to being in contact with the criminal justice system,” said King County District Court Judge Lisa Paglisotti.

Thursday, Paglisotti and members of the RVC program celebrated Veteran’s Day by honoring the veterans in the program committed to getting their lives back on track.

“To see people be able to find that inner strength, within themselves, to see them blossom and to hear them share their successes with the court, the team and other vets is very rewarding,” said Paglisotti. “We need to be able to better transition our vets from whatever service they participated in for our country and help them so they can re-assimilate in a healthy supportive way.”

Participants must be eligible for VA Services and have a criminal charge in King County to get help. After a screening from public health clinicians in King County, veterans receive resources to help with housing, medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“This is not an easy program to be in. So, it really takes a commitment from our participants to say, ‘Yes, I want to do this. Yes, I know it’s not going to be easy. Yes, I trust this team.’ And trust is huge,” said Paglisotti.

Veterans participate in the program for about two years. The judge said veterans are required to agree to “intense” supervision in order to help maintain accountability.

“I believe that we can concurrently hold people accountable while rehabilitating them, which are the two main purposes of the criminal justice system,” said Paglisotti. “Incentives and rewards and recognition that one can move forward with dignity and respect.”

Richard Bishop served in the Marine Corpse during the Vietnam War. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the early 2000s and lost his wife of 46 years in 2015.

“I kind of went off the deep end after that,” said Bishop. “I was really down and out, started drinking too much and got in trouble with the law.”

Heartache almost got the best of Bishop, but he said with the help of the RVC program he worked to make things right in his life. He said the assistance helped him learn more about his cancer diagnosis and get him treatment to recover from alcohol abuse.

“I go to a grievance and loss class and going through cancer treatment. It’s been wonderful,” said Bishop.

The Vietnam War veteran is one year into his commitment to the program. He said he looks forward to his progress.

“The strength to keep sober and keep my sobriety going and keep my health up,” said Bishop.