The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 12, 2013

Special court for veterans debuts

MANKATO — It didn't take long for Danny Riggs to find trouble after he returned from Vietnam with a bullet wound in 1968.

No one cared much about war veterans in California at that time, but, just a year after the "Summer of Love," San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood had all the drugs a troubled, war-hardened young man could want for self medication. Within a year he was arrested for selling marijuana, convicted and sentenced to his first trip to prison.

There would be more of those trips. He was in prison a few times in California before moving to Minnesota to live with a pen pal. Then the regular trips to county jail started here before he was sent to prison in 2009 after pleading guilty to a felony charge of driving while intoxicated. He was released in May 2012 and returned to Vernon Center.

Riggs, 65, was charged with domestic assault and disorderly conduct the following October, but those charges were dismissed. Then he was arrested in April for driving after cancellation and being a danger to public safety.

This time his journey through the judicial system would be different.

Riggs is one of the first people in Blue Earth County to participate in a pilot project aimed at providing a problem-solving court for veterans facing criminal charges, something similar to the drug courts that have become popular throughout the state. The project recently became the state's second Veterans Court, with approval from the Judicial Council, and was awarded a $200,000 from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to help with funding.

One of its primary tools is simply making veterans aware of the services that are available to them through the Veterans Administration and other veterans organizations. Riggs said it took him 45 years to realize all of the programs that are available to help him stay out of trouble and be a productive member of the community.

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