MANKATO — Blue Earth County has been approved as the site for Minnesota's second problem solving court for military veterans facing criminal charges.
The special court, which will be overseen by District Court Judge Bradley Walker, has also received a $200,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services along with the approval from the Minnesota Judicial Council. Walker's court also will be used by veterans who qualify in Nicollet, Brown, Watonwan, Faribault, Jackson and Martin counties. The only other approved veterans court in the state is in Hennepin County.
Veterans participating in the court will receive one-on-one judicial supervision, guidance about how to access services available through their county Veterans Service Offices and the Veterans Administration, counseling for substance abuse and mental health and employment and housing assistance. All participants will have a peer mentor, someone who also is a military veteran, to guide and support them.
Kevin Mettler, veterans court coordinator, said the county has been running a court program for veterans since March. There are currently 10 men participating and the court recently received its first female referral. Mettler also is coordinator for the county's drug court, which focuses on finding solutions for drug offenders that help them stay off drugs and become contributing members of the community.
The idea for the Blue Earth County Veterans Court started when Pat McDermott, chief prosecutor, became aware of felony cases he was handling that involved veterans. He realized there were unique situations veterans, especially veterans who have seen combat, were dealing with after returning home. Some also didn't realize they have access to programs aimed at helping veterans because they don't consider themselves veterans.
"If they start having issues, they tend to self medicate," McDermott said. "We also found out you can't ask some of these younger veterans if they are veterans. They say, 'No, I'm not a veteran. You have to ask them if they have prior military service."
So that is the question that is asked now when someone is arrested and jailed, charged in court or referred to probation, he said.
One significant difference between people in Drug Court and those in Veterans Court is violent behavior. People with a violent criminal record are not allowed to participate in Drug Court.
"With veterans you expect to see some violence," McDermott said. "You need to think about it differently because things are different than you see in most treatment type courts."
"You have to identify the true issue and deal with that issue. In most cases you can point to something in their military service that led to the conduct."
Anyone interested in learning more about Veterans Court is invited to attend the court session at the Law Enforcementat noon Friday.