"They're going through a life-changing event," Walker said. "Being able to cope with that while using chemicals or alcohol is challenging enough for anyone, much less someone on probation."
The state's first veterans court started in Hennepin County about three years ago. Deputy Commissioner Reggie Worlds of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs said that program has been a success. He has played a key role in getting the program started in Blue Earth County and was at Friday's hearing.
It's not uncommon for veterans returning from recent wars to have contact with police officers before going to a veterans affairs office for help, Worlds said. Having the court system become part of the solution by encouraging veterans charged with crimes to look for help, then showing them how to get access to those veterans programs, can stop a bad cycle from starting, he said.
"The people in court today, the majority of them have seen combat," Worlds said. "They are taught to be strong and they are taught not to show weakness. At some point, though, they lose that strength after they return home because they are no longer in the environment that sustained that."
That's when the self medication often starts and anger issues resulting from stress can come to the surface. What they don't realize is they've earned access to a variety of health programs, as well as programs that can help them get an education and find housing and employment, through their military service.
"Because they are taught to be strong, they're not going to look for help," Worlds said.
Assistant County Attorney Pat McDermott helped start the pilot veterans court program in Blue Earth County. He said there are thousands of veterans living in Blue Earth County and pointed out, along with Walker, that the vast majority of them never enter the judicial system.