Specialized court helps out troubled vets

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 27, 2012 at 2:02 pm •  Published: December 27, 2012
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"I did everything she told me to," Stewart said. "I kept my nose clean."

Lloyd said she saw a need for a Veterans Court because a lot of vets were coming into her courtroom with alcohol and drug-related problems associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues brought on by time in combat.

"When I put veterans in regular court, sometimes it doesn't help," Lloyd said.

"I'm asking them to turn their lives inside out. They have to get out of the cycle of drugs. It's not going to cure PTSD."

In the past four years, the number of veterans court programs has risen steadily across the country, with about 120 operating in 35 states. About 100 others are planned across the nation, according to Justice For Vets.

Lloyd and other judges who work with Veterans Court said participants can benefit more from a diversionary program like the specialty court instead of being sent to jail. But jail time is still an option if a defendant violates any part of the program.

Besides the program in Detroit, southeast Michigan also has veterans courts in Redford, Novi and the Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens.

At Redford District Court, the program is overseen by Judge Karen Khalil, who's in her first year working with veterans. She's had 22 join the program.

"It's really a nice program for all who have given to our country and deserve so much," she said.

In Novi, District Judge Brian MacKenzie oversees the veterans court. He started the court two years ago and has seen 80 veterans come through its program.

MacKenzie said in the program, "You'll discover a person suffering who is not getting treatment and is self-medicating with either alcohol or drugs."

He said the veterans court is a way for the community to give back to military veterans.

"We ask these people to sacrifice for us and they come back with invisible wounds," MacKenzie said. "They come back and they find themselves in trouble for alcohol and drug offenses."

The American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada was opposed to the creation of the courts on the grounds they create an uneven playing field, providing veterans with attention and services not available to other defendants.

But Rana Elmir, a spokeswoman for the local office of the ACLU, said the local chapter supports the courts.

Such programs "recognize that our criminal justice system is ill-equipped to address the problems of substance abuse, chemical dependency and mental illness that plague so many in our prisons, including many veterans who are arrested and incarcerated," she said.

Lloyd said veterans are under the same amount of scrutiny as other defendants and "they know I'm stern, they know I will sanction them."

"I said I will be there step by step," she said. "I tell them I need them to become whole again."

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Information from: The Detroit News, http://detnews.com/