Veterans court first in Northeast Michigan

ATLANTA — A new court, the first in Northeast Michigan, established through the Montmorency County District Court is designed to help veterans who have been convicted of a crime.

The first session of court was on Aug. 3, 2016, and since then five participants have been selected to go through the program.

The selection process is not simple. After a veteran is charged with a crime, if they wish to go through the program they must have a preliminary screening with Chief Probation Officer Annette Porter and then a second screening with Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist Arthur Ohlrich.

If the two believe the person is eligible for the program the person must be approved with the Veterans Treatments Court consisting of nine individuals representing the various processes in the criminal justice system such as Sheriff Chad Brown, Prosecutor Vicki Kundinger and District Court Judge Ben Bolser.

Designed to serve veterans struggling with post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, addiction and substance abuse, reintegrations issues or other mental health diagnoses by taking a unique approach.

Veterans from Alpena, Montmorency and other surrounding counties are eligible for the intense 18-month probationary period that has several difference for a normal criminal court.

The program has four missions for the veteran to complete including judicial boot camp, mission treatment, mission new beginning and mission pre-discharge and discharge. During these missions the veteran also must attend a monthly informal court hearing to update the court of their progress.

During this period the veteran is paired with a mentor. This mentor is another veteran who the court looks as similar as possible including branch served and when they served. Currently the court has five mentors but is always looking for interested veterans to help out.

Court Administrator Kristen Cheedie said the mentors benefit just as much as the participant during the process through the relationship established and lessoned learned.

Bolser, the court’s judge, said the five participants are working their way through the probationary process and so far no one has failed.

“These participants are coming to use with substantial issues whether it would be drug abuse, alcohol abuse or mental health issues and so far we’ve pointed them in the right direction,” he said.

The first veterans treatment court was established in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008 and has since spread throughout the country. Now Michigan leads the nation with 25 established veteran courts and Montmorency’s court is the first one for Northeast Michigan.

If anyone honorably discharged from the U.S. military would be interested in becoming a mentor contact Porter at 785-8035 ext. 241.

Tyler Winowiecki can be reached via email at twinowiecki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Tyler on Twitter tw_alpenanews.