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Southeastern Minnesota to add Veterans Court

WINONA COUNTY, Minn. (WXOW) – Many people admire the sacrifices made by those who serve in the military, but the scars left from the battles can be difficult for veterans to overcome. This leads some to a life of crime.

However, a program new to southeastern Minnesota aims to get these veterans back to the path of success.

After serving for six and a half years with the marine corps, Assistant Winona County Attorney Preston Selleck came back with a mental health disability, but he knows first hand some that had it worse, like a corporal he knew.

“[When] he would be drinking and would think people around him were Iraqi insurgents,” Selleck said. “He would attack.”

For those in similar situations in the third judicial district, the newly developed veterans court would get veterans the help and resources they need as an alternative to jail. They’d also be paired up with a veteran as a mentor.

“They are more familiar with in terms of ‘OK, there’s somebody there who is supporting me, who’s served in the military and knows what I’m going through’,” Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman said.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Those in the program will have a number of drug tests as well as individual treatment plans to help fit their needs.

Advocates say some can turn to crime because of the changing of structure from the military and civilian life.

“Because they’re having that kind of issues, they start getting depressed,” Winona County Veterans Service Officer Jerry Obieglo said. “They don’t have the same sense of worth they had in the military.”

While the veterans court is being developed thanks to a grant, the impacts could have lasting effects for taxpayers.

“It will actually reduce the cost to the criminal justice system. It will reduce the costs in our local mental health system,” Sonneman explained.

The district conducted a soft launch of the program on March 1 and Selleck says it’s already making changes for one veteran.

“I talked to his probation officer after I saw him. His probation officer said he’s got a job now and tested clean,” Selleck added.

The official roll out of the program is set for October 1, 2019. The district is seeking two grants and expects both of those to be granted and received at that time.

Some counties have similar program like La Crosse County.

Jeremy Culver

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