In November 2009, the 52-1 District Court implemented Veterans Court. It is a specialty court which aims to keep veterans out of jail for nonviolent offenses through a tightly supervised counseling and mentor program. Utilizing a mentor program allows participants of the Veterans Court to associate with a group of their peers who themselves have experienced success of such programs. The Veterans Administration, having a specific mission of community outreach, agreed to work with the 52-1 District Court to expedite and facilitate the needs of our veteran population. A specialized focus on treating veterans opens the door to additional resources available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies that would not be available through a program dealing with non-veterans. Similar to drug courts, close supervision and monitoring works better than incarceration.
The idea behind Veterans Court is to help identify former soldiers and get them the help they need readjusting to civilian life. Many combat veterans face serious mental health injuries such a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or traumatic brain injury. Due to the fact that their wounds are invisible, they often go untreated. Such disorders often lead to criminal behavior, incarceration, and suicide. The most common behaviors that a veteran might exhibit which would result in a law enforcement encounter are: speeding or traffic violations, domestic violence, fights, alcohol intoxication, and drug possession. The goals of Veterans Court are identifying the veteran early in the system, connecting the soldier to services the government already provides and linking the veteran to a support network. Much like other specialty court programs, successful participants in the Veterans Court go through a graduation ceremony where they are commended for their hard work and dedication.
The 52 -1 District Court held its first Veterans Court graduation ceremony on September 21, 2010. The keynote speaker was Paul J. Hutter, Chief of Staff of the Veterans Health Administration and a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. He was joined by Brigadier General Michael Stone, who gave a moving speech about the impact of his service. The Court continues to hold annual graduation ceremonies for successful participants.
Veterans Court is unique in the creation of relationships with other veterans in the use of volunteer “mentors” for program participants. The 52-1 District Court is grateful to the Veterans Committee of the Oakland County Bar Association and the Oakland County Veterans Groups for their continued willingness to donate their time and energy to the Veterans Treatment Court.