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NEWS | Nov. 15, 2022

Veterans Advocacy Award recipient honored for dedication to court

By 1st Lt. Balinda O'Neal , Alaska National Guard Public Affairs

With no history of military service in her family or record of service herself, the 2022 Governor of Alaska’s Veterans Advocacy Award recipient has dedicated decades of her life to a cause she originally knew nothing about.  

At the beginning of the Iraq War, Alison Carter realized that she was ignorant to the sacrifices that U.S. service members were about to make. Almost two decades later this self-awareness and advocacy that followed led her to be recognized during the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Veterans Day ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Nov. 11.   

“I did some advocacy through the GI Rights Hotline and just became familiar with a lot of the struggles active duty and veterans go through,” said Carter, holding back tears while recollecting on where her passion to serve veterans began. “They just took a big place in my heart.” 

At 57 years old, Carter made the decision to go to law school so she could come home to Fairbanks and start a veterans' therapeutic court. After passing the bar in 2016, she set to work on the veterans' court project.  

“It was my first community advocacy project, and I knew it would take a while, but I didn’t expect for it to take five or six years,” said Carter, who credited a long list of people including the current governor’s administration for helping the project become a reality. 

“There are 45 plus veterans in Fairbanks who worked tirelessly to make this happen,” said Carter, mentioning one special veteran who inspired her to keep pushing through setbacks. “Pearson Crosby, an Iraq War veteran, went through a veterans' court in Philadelphia and it literally saved his life. He wanted to start a veterans' court in Fairbanks and contributed a lot of time to this project.”  

Carter said that Crosby took over a year to complete the veterans court program himself – an alternative justice model that oversees and monitors participants who have to work hard to meet milestones, while being held accountable. Veterans court requires regular court appearances, mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, and frequent, random testing for drug and alcohol use. 

“Sometimes the program itself is longer than the jail time they are facing, but this is going to change the rest of their lives,” said Carter, focusing on the fact that there will not be any future jail time for some of these veterans after completing the program. 

“The opportunity that we are giving them is to plead guilty and take responsibility for their criminal conduct and to voluntarily give themselves over to a program of developing self-awareness about their life experiences that have led them to where they are at that time,” said Carter. “Acceptance that they need help, that they deserve help and that they can be helped.”  
With the highest state per-capita population of veterans and almost 3,000 veterans in Fairbanks, Carter spearheaded the effort to create a court based on a successful model in Anchorage and across the nation.

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and Verdie Bowen, director of the Alaska State Office of Veterans Affairs, presented Carter with the Veterans Advocacy Award and recognized the mountainous achievement she had in helping found the Fairbanks Veterans Court.  

“Establishing a veterans court from the ground up requires buy-n and constant contact with the stakeholders, many of whom may be skeptical of or uninterested in the project,” her nomination letter read. “Alison Carter has undertaken these many tasks, along with seeking out training, inquiring about funding, and balancing the competing demands of the court, government agencies, non-profits, and community members.”  

Eighteen years after Anchorage created the first veterans court in the nation, the state of Alaska has a second court, and Carter’s and so many others’ dreams has officially become a reality.  

With the project completed, Carter has turned her advocacy to spreading the word that the veterans court exists, how the program works and the many benefits it provides to veterans.  

“The court has been stood up, but now we need to build it up,” said Carter, asking a favor from the audience full of Alaska’s veterans and mentioning that Anchorage and Fairbanks Veterans Courts need more veteran mentors. 

“You won’t be a counselor, lawyer, punching bag or even taxi driver,” said Carter. “You will be someone that they can reach out to on a bad day when someone feels like quitting or someone to share their success with.”   

Carter encouraged interested individuals to contact the Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Justice Outreach Program at (907) 273-4047 to volunteer for the program.