June 11, 2019 06:53 PM
(ABC 6 News) -- A pilot veterans treatment court that serves 11 counties including Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Mower and Olmsted is underway in Steele County.
Seven local veterans are participating.
District Court Judge Ross Leuning said it functions like a standard drug court.
"Which is a highly intensive court program that works in combination with probation to provide people a different alternative to prison, to help them get their lives on track," he said.
The only difference is that this program is exclusively for veterans.
"I see these kinds of folks in my regular courtroom, and I see them in veterans court, and the commitment and the desire to succeed is evident in veterans court,” he said.
A veteran himself, Leuning is spearheading the projects.
"Thirty-eigh years of service. I served in the Army National Guard for six years, and 31-plus in the active duty Navy and Navy Reserve. I have a kinship with these folks," he said.
So he wants to serve as many people as possible. Right now, the pilot program can help up to 10 veterans.
"All of the people who are working in the pilot, they're volunteering their time. The prosecutors are, the probation officers, I am. We've just squeezed this into the calendar and everyone is giving their time to see if we can make it work," he said.
Soon, money from a federal grant could help them serve up to 50 people.
"We should learn in July or August what funds we are going to get. We expect, we are hopeful, that we'll get the full funding, which this year is 500,000."
That would allow them to expand the veterans court in Steele County, and add a second one in Fillmore County.
"The problem that we face in the Third Judicial District, because most of our counties are rural counties, they don't have enough individuals involved in their individual county courts to really make a treatment court. Maybe except Olmsted; they have a large enough population base. So we decided, let’s make a district-wide one, and then we can centralize the court sessions and have a western section and an eastern section," he said.
They hope to have an official kickoff ceremony at both locations this fall.
"That will be Sept. 20, just a little before the federal money becomes available. We picked that date because that is POW/MIA day. So we thought it’s the perfect day to kick this off and cut the ribbon and announce our official start,” he said.
They are still looking for volunteer peer mentors to assist veterans court participants.
For more information, contact Veterans Court Coordinator David Wulff.
He can be reached by phone at (507) 377-5143 or by email at David.Wulff@co.freeborn.mn.us
Created: June 11, 2019 06:53 PM
Copyright 2019 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company