Generations of war veterans gathered at the Royal Kona Resort this week for the 75th annual Department of Hawaii Veteran of Foreign Wars State Convention.
“We have vets from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and all the way up to Desert Storm,” said former VFW Commander in Chief Richard Eubank. “Our primary focus is to gather so we can focus on issues that pertain to veterans and make sure that our veterans are taken care of.”
The VFW has been around since 1899 and is unique in that it is made up of only veterans who served in combat.
VFW and its auxiliary organizations have more than 1.9 million members, including more than 4,000 veterans in Hawaii.
“If there is something that is coming up, we get the word out,” Eubank said. “We make sure finances and care available for veterans and that they know when bills are passed that will affect them. We will continue to march to make sure our guys receive the proper care.”
The keynote speaker Saturday was First Circuit Court Judge Edward Kubo Jr.
Kubo spoke to the convention crowd about Hawaii Veterans Treatment Court — a new service available for veterans who get in trouble with the law after returning from deployment.
“I think the turning point for me was when I was serving as the United States Attorney in 2008,” Kubo said. “Part of my duties with the Department of Justice was to protect the military and their families. Anything that happened at Pearl Harbor, or Schofield Barracks was my kuleana in terms of prosecuting.
“With all the deployments from Hawaii going on, I started hearing about these soldiers coming back to the bases and the crime rate spiking after their return. I started doing research and found that PTSD was becoming more classified and acknowledged. I realized something needed to be done.”
The Veterans Treatment Court takes a different approach to veterans. Instead of using retribution and punishment to deal with veterans who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Kubo’s court uses treatment and rehabilitation to give these veterans a second chance.
In 2008 the first veterans court was established in Buffalo, N.Y., by Judge Robert Russell, who launched the court in response to the growing number of veterans addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffering from mental illness appearing on his dockets.
“Judge Russell did a presentation in Washington, D.C., and I fell in love with his program and latched onto it,” Kubo said. “I knew Hawaii needed his program.”
Kubo’s court started in January and has already made an impact.
“We have the perfect teamwork between the veteran mentors and the veterans in the program,” he said. “We only have five individuals in the program now, but that’s just because of funding. We need more funding to go forward with this and be able to give more time and attention to the well-deserving veterans.”
Kubo’s hope is to get veterans courts started on the other islands.
“We plan to bring this to Maui and then Kauai, but right now the Big Island is No. 1 on our priorities list,” Kubo said.
Kubo will be back on the Big Island Jan. 19 to present his program to 3rd Circuit Court Judge Ronald Ibarra.