Tennessee Senator Mark Green announces Legislative Priorities

Packed courtroom on Tuesday, for a good reason

Judge Ken Goble’s Veterans Treatment Court is built on an idea that military people live by and die for, to ‘leave no one behind’ – not in a jail cell or even their own personal battlefield


CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Room 210, General Sessions Court in the Montgomery County Courts Complex, was packed on Tuesday for a good reason.

Rather than hearing lurid testimony in a criminal case, the crowded courtroom heard about five success stories of veterans – graduates of the county’s Veterans Treatment Court (VTC).

The court program, run by Judge Ken Goble, was set up two years ago because Goble and others felt that those who had served the nation in a difficult time had earned a shot at being restored to the community when they encountered their own difficulties as a result.

Tuesday’s five graduates each had their own story, with a central thread of alcohol and/or substance abuse that had brought them in contact with police and the courts system through repeated DUIs or other problems.

But the other thread that ran through their stories was past honorable service that showed they were perhaps capable of fighting their way back through their own personal battlefields.

‘Leave no man behind’

Near the front, on the left side of the courtroom were their fellow warriors – other veterans who have become established community leaders with a track record of civic accomplishment – who give of their time and energy to help brother and sister veterans in trouble.

They are the soul of the program, which has a reputation of being anything but an easy way out. The mentors keep their charges on track through it all, and not everyone graduates. And not every graduate succeeds past graduation.

But, as Goble said, the program wins more battles than it loses, though the losses hurt.

The reasons for trying were summed up by state senator and U.S. Army veteran Mark Green, Tuesday’s guest speaker, who said, “The thing that most often comes to mind when I think of a veteran is that blank check they’re willing to write for the country.

“We take that oath; ‘I swear and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,’ and oh, by the way, I know that this blank check may be redeemed at some point with my life.

“… In the end, that’s what it all boils down to; and we in today’s military, it’s a religion for us… leave no veteran behind, leave no man behind. We will sacrifice our own life for our friend, our fellow veteran. That’s really what this veterans court is about. Because of their willingness to write that blank check, we’re going to do everything we can to save them.”

That sums up the mission. From the challenges of life that stem from the challenges of war, as Green said, they deserve an extra effort from the community.

‘Collateral damage’

One veteran of the five, Jason Gosz, couldn’t be present.

The lone female veteran of the five graduates on Tuesday, Dale Albarran, said in her remarks, “I get preachy about the VTC, because Judge Goble and the VTC have saved my life.

“I learned to live without the ‘what-ifs’ and learned to deal with what really happens.”

Daniel Cruz, who loved the Army, no longer had a place in its ranks because of his alcohol problems, but has come out the other side of the program as a member of the National Guard and with a job with the Army, serving again in another capacity, training soldiers and getting ready to deploy soon.

William Nelper’s life revolves around what his mentor, Monroe Gildersleeve, called his “three mistresses – Harley, Harley and Harley,” and stated that he’s ready to party again, but in a different way, without the alcohol, because he says he now knows it’s possible.

And Muhammad Shahid, former Navy and later a cavalry platoon sergeant with four deployments – two apiece in Iraq and Afghanistan during which he experienced “disturbing things” – spent his last three years of service in a downward spiral that almost took away everything he had built.

Through the program, he received marriage counseling to save his 26-year investment with his wife, Mary, and after a year and three months sober, he has two marathons and a 10K run under his belt.

Shahid made it, even through the bad time of losing his first sponsor to leukemia, among other trials.

“There will always be collateral damage in war and even in this program,” he said. “But the successes outweigh the failures.”

Next mission

Goble began the ceremony saying, “We don’t win every time. We fail.”

He particularly lamented a recent grad with everything going for him who ended up with another DUI. Goble said he asked the veteran, “What could we have done? What did we miss?”

But the man said it was his own fault, that he stopped being vigilant, became cocky and thought he had it beaten..

Because of the pain of that loss, Goble said he’s begun an after-care-type follow-up program, and said Shahid will be heading it up.

Now a veteran of another, different kind of war, like his fellow grads, Shahid says he knows there are other brothers and sisters out there to be saved, That’s the next mission.

Philip Grey, 245-0719

Military affairs reporter

Twitter: @PhilipGrey_Leaf


Mark Green: Let doctors cross state borders for free medical clinics

3:00 AM, Sep 27, 2014

Even as the United States faces a severe and worsening doctor shortage, most states actually prohibit health care professionals from crossing their borders to take part in free medical clinics where they could donate their services to those most in need. Politicians and bureaucrats should get out of the way and let doctors help.

America has long relied on the volunteer services of doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care professionals to help meet our medical needs. At no taxpayer cost, Knoxville’s outstanding Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps (RAM), for instance, has provided at least $75 million worth of free health care services to more than 545,000 needy patients at more than 730 free clinics since its founding in 1985.

Over the years, RAM has enlisted the services of 84,000 volunteers representing nearly every medical, dental and optical specialty. Upholding the finest traditions of the health professions, these men and women give of their time and skills, asking patients just one question: “Where does it hurt?”

Yet for all the good they do, free medical clinics face a real challenge recruiting enough volunteer professionals to staff the clinics. Licensing requirements in nearly every state make it needlessly difficult for the volunteer doctors to cross state lines to help.

At a single 2010 clinic at the Los Angeles Forum, RAM volunteers performed more than 15,000 medical procedures on behalf of 7,091 needy patients, but had to turn away thousands more because of a shortage of volunteers licensed in California. There were plenty of prospective professionals from other states who had been willing to help, but — as is too often the case — they were prohibited from doing so by California’s needlessly restrictive state licensing regulations.

Candis Cohen, a representative of the California Medical Board, openly expressed the provincialism and self-righteousness of many state licensing bureaucrats: “We don’t know how well someone may have been trained in Texas or Alaska or somewhere else,” she told The Los Angeles Times. “We have our standards. They’re quite high.”

It is an ill-founded fear. Medical science does not change at the state border, and there is no justification for keeping a duly licensed, practicing doctor from volunteering to become a “Good Samaritan” to the needy patients in another state.

Tennessee led the nation in allowing out-of-state health care professionals to provide free medical care to our residents. Since we adopted the Volunteer Health Care Services Act in 1995, RAM alone has been a beacon of hope to thousands of Tennesseans who would otherwise never be able to afford the care they provide. Just since 2012, RAM alone has conducted 29 free clinics in our state, serving 15,257 patients — and delivering health procedures that might have cost taxpayers at least $6.3 million.

If we are going to get health care to those who need it, we need legislation in every state capitol that will allow out-of-state volunteer health care professionals to practice at free, volunteer medical clinics. U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., has repeatedly introduced federal legislation to that effect, but it has never even been given a hearing in Congress, by either Democrats or Republicans.

In the computer age, it should be a no-brainer for state licensing authorities to confirm the identity and status of out-of-state medical volunteers.

In a country that’s facing an already serious doctor shortage, we should welcome those health care professionals who are willing to help. We must do everything we can to let them do so.

Dr. Mark Green is a practicing physician who represents Clarksville in the Tennessee state Senate. He is also founder of the Align MD Foundation, which provides free health care to needy patients throughout the world.

“Faces of the Fallen”