Muskegon County’s Alternative Court for U.S. Combat Veterans

Muskegon County’s alternative court for veterans would initially focus on high-risk and high-need veterans

By Chris Berry

A Muskegon County alternative court for combat veterans of high-risk and great-need could be the first court of its kind in Michigan to be certified by the U.S. Department of Justice.

A presentation on the project was made to the Muskegon County Commissioners Sept. 3 meeting by Muskegon County District Court Judge Michael Nolan and David Eling, the county’s director of the Department of Veteran Affairs. Nolan would be the veterans court’s judge, while Eling would coordinate mentors for veterans in the court.

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Federal certification for a veterans’ court would produce more paperwork, but also the potential of additional federal grant money for its programs, Eling said. The specialty court would direct offenders into treatment programs and reduce the number of repeat offenders, called recidivism.

“We want to get them off that merry-go-round,” Eling said. “We certainly owe it to these men and women.”

The primary focus of the court would be high-risk, high-need combat veterans, labeled “little time bombs” by Eling, because often they return from combat tours used to violence and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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“They need it the most and are at the highest risk of recidivism,” Nolan said.

All candidates for the specialty court would have to be approved by the Muskegon County Prosecutor.

“We’ve decided to take it on a case-by-case basis,” Nolan said.

Set to launch in January or February 2014, the court would begin with only 10 defendants. The start of the program had been delayed because funding for the court’s training initially fell through. Eling said Judy Kell, Muskegon County’s grants coordinator, located an alternative training that the court could complete nearly for free from the National Drug Court Institute.

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Muskegon County’s Department of Veteran’s Affairs came up with close to $10,000 needed to send four people from the veterans’ court team to Washington, D.C., to complete training.

“This has no impact to the general fund, because we’re using existing resources,” Muskegon County Administrator Bonnie Hammersley told County Commissioners.

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