The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 19, 2013

Vets court offers needed resources

Why it matters: Returning veterans face stresses that can lead to trouble with the law


The Mankato Free Press

---- — A new Blue Earth County court for offenders who are veterans not only marks another milestone for the progressive nature of the regional court system, it should help veterans rebound from troubling circumstances driven in part by service to their country.

Blue Earth County Veterans Court stands as the second such court in the state after Hennepin County offered the court a few years ago.

The court isn’t letting veterans escape responsibility for their actions but rather educating them about services and resources available to them. Many of these programs can help vets avoid or break a cycle of criminal activity.

Experts says that many veterans that end up in trouble with the law have trouble making the transition from intense combat experiences to civilian life. Combat requires an environment of aggressiveness and constant vigilance. Civilian life does not. It’s separating the two that can be difficult for veterans.

Many veterans in the criminal justice system have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome of have a brain injury from combat, according to Blue Earth County Judge Brad Walker, a retired Marine Corps colonel who oversees the new veterans court. Veterans experiencing those problems may take to self-medication with drugs or alcohol or violence that ultimately lands them in court.

The new court becomes part of the solution, said Reggie Worlds, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs, who also attended Blue Earth County’s debut court meeting last week.

The court in Hennepin County has been successful because it encourages veterans charged with crimes to look for help and get that help. A combat environment teaches veterans to be strong and not to show weakness, so many do not naturally look for help when they get home, Worlds said.

In the end, the court is operating with a little more sensitivity to veterans issues and again becoming part of the solution to keeping veterans from returning to crime.

It’s off to a good start in Blue Earth County. That’s good for veterans and good for the community.