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images_black-veteranThe Genesee County Veterans Treatment Court is more than a courtroom. It’s become a living memorial to those who have served their country, and it’s one of more than 130 documented Veterans Treatment Courts now operating throughout the U.S.

The Genesee court, launched in 2013, was inspired by a staffer for the Genesee County Probate Court. She lost her son as a result of PTSD-related complications after he served three tours in Afghanistan. Judge Jennie Barkey and other members of the Flint, Michigan, judicial community came together to create the special court, which focuses exclusively on helping the disproportionate number of justice-involved U.S. Military Veterans who find themselves embroiled in the U.S. justice system after returning from combat. The Genesee County Veterans Treatment Court is dedicated to the memory of Sergeant Dwayne “Wayne” Cherry.

According to Barkey and Justice for Vets, Veterans Treatment Courts, first established in 2007 in Buffalo, NY, are designed to address the needs of Veterans who struggle with substance abuse and a disability—such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury—related to their military service, and who have committed a crime directly tied to their disability or addiction issues. The year-long program requires participating Veterans to remain substance-free, attend treatment, report regularly to court, be accountable and move forward with activities like education or community service.

The statistics for military veterans and the criminal justice system can be staggering, and according to GeneseeCourt Administrator James Bauer, drug and alcohol abuse are a significant part of what brings Veterans into their program. Nearly 30% of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan met the criteria for alcohol abuse. And between 60 and 80% of Vietnam Veterans seeing PTSD treatment have alcohol use problems. According to Bauer, the most common offenses the court deals with include drug-related crimes like possession, drunk driving and domestic violence.

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