Specialized court helps out troubled vets
DETROIT (AP) — Jason Daniels remembers his days in the U.S. Navy as a long time at sea and away from his family.
Daniels also remembers the motto of imbibing as a young sailor: "Drink to the foam."
But years later, too many drinks would lead to problems, and the civilian Daniels eventually was arrested for drinking and driving.
Luckily for Daniels, a father of four adult children and one young child, Detroit's Veterans Court was there to help.
The specialized 36th District Court program aims to rehabilitate vets accused of nonviolent crimes, especially those with alcohol and drug problems. Instead of jailing them, the court works at getting them help.
The Detroit court is one of four in southeastern Michigan set up to handle nonviolent vets. Since the first veterans court was established in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, 120 such diversionary programs have been opened in 35 states, and more are on the way.
Judges and others involved in the program expect an influx of cases as more troops return home from Afghanistan.
Now 18 months into his sobriety, Daniels graduated from the program this month and wants to help others.
"It's a helpful program," said Daniels, 47, of Detroit. "(Veterans) have more problems than the average person."
Daniels could have been slapped with jail time and stiffer fines. Instead, he agreed to go into counseling, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and participate in regular court sessions through the program.
"I learned how to direct my energy and feelings through Veterans Court," said Daniels, as he read a letter to Judge Leonia Lloyd, who oversees the program, at his graduation.
Participants attend court hearings with other veterans. Prior to their court proceedings, they participate in meetings where they receive information about counseling services and other resources available to help them.
As part of the program, which usually lasts about 18 months, veterans are required to attend alcohol or substance abuse counseling and undergo mandatory drug testing.
Some might be required to wear a tether to monitor possible alcohol use. Once the veteran has successfully completed the program, follow-up programs are available through the Veterans Administration.
According to statistics provided by the Justice for Vets advocacy program, 81 percent of veterans who had contact with police or a court officer had a substance abuse problem before their incarceration. And more than a third of the veterans were identified as having alcohol dependency. "It's very important for the veterans," said Phil Smith, director of the Vietnam Veterans of America benefits program in Michigan. "Sometimes the judicial system doesn't understand veterans as well as it should. Many veterans have some issue coping . after going to war, especially with drugs and alcohol."
Vietnam veteran Roger Stewart, 62, of Dearborn Heights, said he was glad to be part of the program in Detroit.
Stewart successfully completed the program in February 2011. He was referred there after being arrested for drinking and driving and said he made sure to follow Lloyd's orders.
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