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Program Seeks to Rehabilitate Soldiers Committing Low-Level Crimes

Posted at: 11/16/2012 6:49 PM
By: Brittany Lewis

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- The Justice System in Minnesota is stepping up to help some of our heroes, who have fallen on hard times. They're often called Veteran Courts and are made up almost entirely of veterans working with veterans who have committed crimes.

"What am I supposed to do hammer these guys? We created the problem, I think we need to clean it up," said Washington County Attorney, Pete Orput.

The Washington County Attorney's Office is working to help combat veterans who commit low-level crimes through their Veterans Program. The program seeks to rehabilitate the soldiers, who often times have mental health or chemical dependency issues, rather than just punish them.

"If you will, aide the offender, rebuild the veteran back to how they were to the best we can prior to the service," said Brent Wartner, Washington County first assistant attorney.

The Attorney's office screens veterans to see if they're eligible for the program, looking at their military service to see what kind of effect it had on their actions.

"There's nothing unique here. If what's unique is that we're screening them and getting them the help they need," said Orput.

If they are found eligible, the soldiers are given mentors, often former military themselves, and have to adhere to strict guidelines.

"We will divert them from the criminal justice system so long as they get the help they need," he added.

Neil Doyle of Olmsted County Veteran Services says a program like this is beneficial.

"Low-level vets would be able to maintain their employment. They wouldn't risk losing housing," he said.

And Orput says there's a moral obligation as well.

"These people weren't criminals when they went in the service and we wouldn't even see them but for the fact that we ran them through repeated combat tours and they came back and they've got problems," he said.

The Veteran Program's hope is to rehabilitate some of those problems. The program started in January of this year and four veterans will be graduating from it soon. The Olmsted County Attorney's Office says they would consider a similar program.