Matt Plever sings at the York County Veterans Treatment Court one-year anniversary ceremony at the York County Judicial Center on Monday.
Matt Plever sings at the York County Veterans Treatment Court one-year anniversary ceremony at the York County Judicial Center on Monday. (Bill Kalina photo)

A former sniper who served in Iraq, 32-year-old Matt Plever is carrying a guitar these days instead of a gun.

He uses the song to explain what else he's carrying - something people might not realize could exist in this clean-cut country singer.

"It's a storm that's raging inside of him tonight.

He don't know if he can get this right.

It's a look in his eye she's never seen before.

Soldiers don't come back from war."

Halfway through the song at York County Veterans Treatment Court on Monday, sniffles replaced the grunted "oorahs" and "hooahs" that earlier punctuated the important points made in Courtroom 10.

Tough as they want to be, these soldiers are emotional. A song can affect them and so can war.

That's the topic of Plever's song, "Soldiers Don't Come Back from War," as well as the premise behind the veterans treatment court.

The court, which was founded to offer offending veterans intensive counseling instead of prison time, celebrated its one-year anniversary Monday with a ceremony at the York County Judicial Center.

Like some of the other 14 veterans enrolled in the court, Plever came home from war and got into trouble.

"I struggled with a lot of different things," said Plever, a blacksmith. "There was so much anger, I was so short-fused."

He ended up in the treatment court after alcohol-related offenses made it clear there was a problem.

Common Pleas Judge Craig Trebilcock, a U.S. Army veteran, started the court last year with people like Plever in mind, he said.

"(War) changes who you are..." Trebilcock said. "You don't get the same one back you send overseas."

People have to lose their minds in order to run toward incoming enemy fire. They need to "act first and think later," and they get locked in that mindset and can react to situations as if they were, for example, "back in Baghdad."

People who served their country and made sacrifices end up breaking law and entering the court system, he said.

"They're there because we trained them to behave in a certain way," he said.

Trebilcock said the treatment court corrects an injustice against Vietnam-era veterans, who were thrown in jail because of lack of research and understanding about the effects of post-traumatic stress.

"The purpose of this court is to help them come home with honor," he said.

The veterans court is one of four York County treatment courts, intended to divert people from jail and address the causes of criminal behavior. The county started with a drug-abuse treatment court in 1997 and has expanded to include DUI-court, mental health court, and the veterans program, said county commissioner Doug Hoke.

Program participants must undergo intensive therapy and treatment, attending meetings several times per month. In exchange for their successful completion of the treatment, the judges can downgrade the severity of their crimes. For example, felony might become a misdemeanor and a misdemeanor might be dismissed.

Research shows diversionary programs work, said President Judge Stephen Linebaugh.

After completing treatment court, 70-90 percent of offenders don't re-offend. The recidivism rate for sending people to prison is "the exact opposite," with 70-90 percent offending again, he said.

Data shows the courts also save the county money.

The 88 graduates of the courts saved the county more than 22,000 days in York County Prison, translating to a savings of more than $860,000 for taxpayers, according to the York County Treatment Courts 2012 Fiscal Report.

The average cost of treatment court is $11,279 per participant, while prison costs $83 per day.

York City resident Don Seifert said Monday he was facing more than 20 years in prison on drug-dealing charges that landed him in veterans court.

The 55-year-old, the veterans court's first graduate, is a Marine who served in the 1970s.

"I was a poor junkie trying to get a free high," he said.

Veterans are paired with "battle buddies," veterans who volunteer to be available 24-7 for those they mentor.

Jim Troxell, a 68-year-old mentor from Springettsbury Township, said he served two years in Vietnam when he was in the Army.

One of his battle buddies is one of the court's oldest participants - a veteran who also served in southeast Asia.

The man, in his 50s, was addicted to drugs and tried to steal a television from a West Manchester Township Wal-mart. When a guard tried to stop him, he tried to run over her with his car, Troxell said.

"When he came into the program, he was just broken," the mentor said. "Now he's signing up for (classes) to do counseling and work to help others."

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.