Veterans Treatment Court Opens in Southeastern Minnesota

September 20, 2019 10:41 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- On Friday, people across the U.S. honored the more than 82,000 military members who never returned from war.

On National POW/MIA Recognition Day, some huge news, impacting veterans across Southeastern Minnesota, was announced. Two Veterans Treatment Courts opened in our region.


City, state and federal representatives attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies in Preston and Owatonna.

“For those of you who don't know, a treatment court is an intensive probationary program,” Judge Ross Leuning told a crowd of people gathered in front of the Fillmore County Courthouse.

The Veterans Treatment Court works to get to the root cause of a crime committed by a service member, offering them the help and resources needed to get their lives back on track instead of incarcerating them.

“It's generally more onerous, more intensive, and more work for the probationer than regular probation,” said Leuning. “So it's certainly not a break.”

“If a veteran commits an act that lands them in the justice system in a county or an area that has a Veterans Treatment Court, their chance of moving on from that and not committing a crime again is much greater than if they happen to be geographically in a place that they can't go in front of a court,” said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.

Walz, a veteran himself, is passionate about getting every military member in the state access to a Veterans Treatment Court.

“It's very personal in that I had a friend; he was a marine sniper, he did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and I got a call several years ago from his mother saying Clay Hunt had taken his own life from the stress that he experienced,” said Walz.

Leuning, who is also a veteran, was essential in getting the Third Judicial District Veterans Court up and running. He says combat impacts everyone differently.

“The army did a study trying to disprove that a combat experience would cause criminal behavior,” said Leuning. “The study did just the opposite.”

More than 700 soldiers from Minnesota are set to be deployed to the Middle East next month.

“When they come back, if they bring something back with them … and whether it's next year or 15 or 20 years, we need to be there to see a path forward and a path to righteousness and redemption for them,” said Walz.

The Veterans Treatment Court in Fillmore County will also serve veterans in Houston, Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona counties.

The one in Steele County will also serve Dodge, Mower, Freeborn, Rice, and Waseca counties.

Both courts will work with 25 veterans at a time, taking on gross misdemeanor and felony cases.


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