IRON MOUNTAIN - Dickinson County District Court, along with various partners, has developed a local veterans' treatment court.
Veterans who have been charged with certain alcohol- or drug-related criminal offenses and who meet the program's eligibility criteria may participate.
The program is designed to assist veterans who are suffering from alcohol and substance abuse issues that may be complicated or layered with other service-related conditions like post traumatic stress disorder.
Officials believe it to be the first established veterans' treatment court in the Upper Peninsula.
"In short, I believe this program will truly benefit the men and women who are struggling with these types of military service-related issues," said Dickinson County District Court Judge Christopher Ninomiya. "The costs to operate this program should be minimal, and the gains may be monumental."
The program will be funded under the current budget for the district court and through user fees. It is not anticipated to utilize any additional taxpayer dollars.
"Not only does it have the potential to reduce our jail population and associated expenses, it also gives us the opportunity to assist and provide specialized treatment plans for veterans who have selflessly served our country," Judge Ninomiya added.
The program is tailored to address some of the unique treatment issues that affect the veteran population. It will parallel the methodology that is currently employed in the sobriety court program and will involve jail diversion, intensive probationary requirements, and a coordinated treatment effort with VA professionals and probation staff.
Judge Ninomiya will also be personally meeting with the participants on a regular bi-weekly basis to check their progress and to assist them in achieving the goals of the program.
"I am very excited that Dickinson County has taken these steps to assist our nation's veterans to try and help them reintegrate back into the community and back into their families after serving their country," said Chuck Lantz, director of the local Office of Veterans Affairs. "We have many veterans that have sustained visible and invisible wounds from combat."
A memorandum of understanding has been entered into with the Dickinson County District Court, the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center, the Dickinson County Prosecutor's Office, and attorney Adam L. Kruppstadt, who will be representing the legal interests of involved veterans.
"In representing numerous clients who have served in our military forces, I am convinced that many of our veterans will benefit from a specialty treatment court," said Kruppstadt. "Jail time is clearly not always the answer to criminal misconduct, and this program is better equipped to serve the specific needs and issues that our veterans are facing."
"These individuals have served our country with distinction and honor, and we should do whatever we possibly can to assist them through this difficult process," he added. "These programs have proven to be highly successful in other parts of the country, and I am honored to be part of this collaborative and innovative effort to help our veterans."
The Supreme Court Administrator's Office has authorized the operation of this specialty court program after having reviewed the operating parameters.
The Dickinson County Board of Commissioners has also extended its support for the program, and is expected to vote to authorize the operation of this special court program in Dickinson County.
In addition, Dickinson County Prosecutor Lisa Richards voiced her support for the program.
"For several years now, we have recognized that veteran offenders have rehabilitative and other treatment needs that are unique to their experience as veterans," she said. "Though we have strived to structure plea and sentence agreements with those needs in mind, the development of a veterans' treatment court will give us the framework within which to better accomplish these goals."
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.