Treatment court offers second chance to area veterans

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German Batista of Hilton Head Island graduates from Veterans Treatment Court at the Beaufort County Courthouse on Sept. 20.

German Antonio Batista is a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient. He received two Bronze Stars following a tour of duty in Iraq during the Gulf War. He is also a recovering abuser of alcohol and drugs.

The Hilton Head Island man and business owner’s relationship with alcohol began at age 15 in his home country of Panama. Then, 12 years ago, cocaine was introduced into the mix.

He would go out for one drink and black out, not remembering anything that had happened the night before. Sometimes he would end up in jail. Then in January 2015, he was pulled over on suspicions of being under the influence. Deputies also found cocaine.

“I was so embarrassed,” Batista said. “I didn’t want anyone to know that I couldn’t control myself. I kept getting in trouble. I couldn’t understand why I kept doing what I was doing. I had accomplished so many things in my life… I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t drink responsibly.”

At 52, Batista is now clean and sober. He credits the area’s new Veterans Treatment Court and the Hilton Head Island program You Are Not Alone, part of YANA Club of Hilton Head Island, for his continued recovery and sobriety.

Recently, Batista stood in front of Multi-Disciplinary Court Judge Erin Dean at the Beaufort County courthouse. He is the first person to enter and successfully complete the Veterans Treatment Court program, which began in November 2015 through the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

The Solicitor’s Office took over the Multi-Disciplinary Court in 2010. It had previously been called Drug Court.

“First, we changed the name. The name change was not just a semantic change; it was a new direction,” said solicitor Duffie Stone during Batista’s graduation Sept. 20. “It was a way that we as a treatment court could provide treatment services to a wider variety of people and for a variety of issues. Today is the culmination of that. This is a way of serving those people who have who had sacrificed so much for us.”

In 1991, Batista deployed to Saudi Arabia as a Black Hawk helicopter repairman. When his team traveled into Iraq in a military vehicle convoy, he accidentally stepped on an IED. Shrapnel struck his legs, thighs and hands, resulting in lifelong physical and mental problems. He left the military in 1996 as an E-4 specialist and made his way to Hilton Head, where he opened a roofing business.

Following last year’s arrest, Batista’s attorney, Corey Fleming, recognized that the former soldier could benefit from the treatment program, which specifically aims to assist veterans who have had brushes with the criminal justice system due to substance abuse and/or a mental health disorder as a result of military service.

“When I signed a contract with the (Veterans Treatment Court), I kept wondering what they are going to teach me,” Batista said. “I have tried everything. I just thought: ‘All I have to do is fake it and I’ll be out of it.’”

He quickly changed his mind.

While in the program, Batista successfully participated in 16 weeks of outpatient therapy, eight weeks of after-care treatment and worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Beaufort and Charleston to undergo treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. He also worked closely with the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department and his volunteer mentor, Mark Hassett. Each veteran is assigned a mentor, and treatment plans are specific to each participant.

Veterans Treatment Court program participants can expect to spend up to 18 months in the program and must appear regularly in front of a judge. They must undergo random drug screenings, mental health treatment and actively participate and report on their progress.

Studies have shown that these programs work, increasing the quality of life for veterans and reducing the rate of jail recidivism.

The Solicitor’s Office’s Adult Multi-Disciplinary Court, which includes Veterans Treatment Court, has an 11 percent recidivism rate of participants committing serious offenses within two years of completion of the program.

“This program is very intense. From day one to today, I am better person for having participated in drug court,” Batista read from a prepared letter during his graduation. “The drug court team treated me with respect and dignity. I better understand addiction, and the quality of my life has improved. This program literally saved my life from jail, institution and death.”

Veterans who successfully undergo the Veterans Treatment Court program are eligible to have their charges expunged.

To learn more about the Veterans Treatment Court, call program director Michael Lee at 843-255-5908 or email mlee@bcgov.net.