Veterans courts expanding rapidly in Michigan

Aug 27, 2014

A Marine veteran places his hand over his heart as a sign of respect during a ceremony Feb. 19, 2010 at the Marine Corps League Detachment 246 meeting hall in honor of the Marines who fought in the Feb 19 - March 26, 1945 battle of Iwo Jima.
Credit Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton

There are now 17 counties in Michigan that offer special courts for veterans, to try to steer them towards treatment, instead of incarceration.

Monroe County began its new Veterans Court this month.

Melody Powers is a veterans outreach justice coordinator with the VA Health System in Ann Arbor.  She says many veterans who get in trouble with the law have untreated alcoholism or post-traumatic stress disorder.  But it's often very difficult for them to ask for help.

"A lot of time, veterans, I find, feel that they are strong, and they can just deal with whatever issues come up."

Powers says the aim of the courts is to intervene early on - the first time a veteran is arrested. 

Most often the arrests are for drunk driving, minor assault, or disorderly conduct.  Serious crimes such as rape or murder are not handled by Veterans Courts.

Powers credits the state's highest court for the rapid expansion of the system in the state.   Most of the state's Veterans Courts have been established since 2012, with funding and support from the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Michigan Supreme Court also asks Veterans Court judges to travel to places in the state that lack a Veterans Court.

"And that's been especially helpful in the Upper Peninsula," says Powers.  "To make sure we're reaching all justice-involved veterans and putting treatment in place for everyone who might need it, instead of if they happen to have a treatment court in their neighborhood."