The VVA Veteran® Online

March/April 2015

Arizona Court Helps Troubled Veterans


photo: Judy LaceyOne evening a couple of years ago, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, Mayor Mark Nexsen was watching 60 Minutes when he suddenly sat up, intrigued by a piece on Houston’s Veterans Court. In fact, he was so impressed that he began to think, “Why not us?”

He went to observe the Maricopa County (Arizona) Veterans Court in action. He returned home a believer, rolled up his sleeves, and discussed the possibilities with the local judiciary. He also consulted with veterans organizations, including VVA’s Mohave County, Arizona, Chapter 975, to develop a consensus.

Costs were evaluated. Mayor Nexsen and his advisors decided that savings would outweigh costs. They cited four factors: (1) Confinement costs would be saved; (2) Costs for treatment and follow-up would be shifted to the VA; (3) Court costs would be minimized because the veteran must plead guilty to enter the program; and (4) Program graduates would return home as tax-paying members of the community.

Judge Mitchell Kalauli, a military veteran with five years’ experience in a drug treatment court, was chosen to run the Lake Havasu City Veterans Court. Kalauli is highly respected by veterans because he is compassionate and because he shakes hands with those who appear before him while thanking them for their service. He has overseen the unexpectedly rapid growth of the court and has challenged local veterans groups to compile a list of services available to veterans in trouble.

This loose gathering of veterans advocates has coalesced into the Veterans Resource Group, which meets monthly with Judge Kalauli to review progress and to field ideas for new projects. The VRG is also charged with providing veteran-mentors for the court. Mentors are key to the system; a mentor can straighten out the path of a troubled veteran.

In the fifteen months since the Lake Havasu City Veterans Court began, ninety-nine veterans have been identified as eligible for the court (not all crimes are suitable for Veterans Court). Ten have graduated and thirty-five are currently in the program. The recidivism rate is just 10 percent, well below the national rate of 70 percent. Half of those who failed their first attempt have returned to complete the program.

Another benefit: Seven of the eight homeless veterans who went through Veterans Court now have comfortable housing. These successes underscore the importance of the involvement of local veterans organizations. They provide the support and resources that can ensure that the court can effectively intercede in the lives of veterans caught in the legal system.

Dorn Patrick Farrell is the Arizona State Council Incarcerated Veterans Program Coordinator and the Second Vice President of Mohave County Chapter 975. For more information, contact him at


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