Golf outing to give boost to vet court program in counties

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Treatment court acts as a safety net for veterans who need help

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Driven by their commitment to assisting veterans who face financial, emotional and legal issues as they return to civilian life, Dave and Rich LaLonde brothers and veterans are gearing up for the Fifth Annual LaLonde Charity Open. This year's outing is July 19 at the Pine Knob Golf Course in Clarkston.

The LaLonde golf outing is a major fund-raiser for the Friends of the Veterans Treatment Court, a nonprofit group that acts a safety net for veterans who need help after they return home. Last year's golf outing raised more than $90,000 for veterans treatment programs in Oakland and Macomb counties.

Dave LaLonde, a local auto dealer and partner in Auto Credit, is quick to note that while he is grateful for his business success, he is passionate about the work of the veterans' treatment courts.

"I really run a great business, but this is the only thing that chokes me up, because I've seen what veterans can and have accomplished."

LaLonde finds others in the community are more than willing to write a check in support of the charity open.

"They understand the sacrifice vets and their families make, " LaLonde said. "Many of our vets have given everything, including their life. Money cannot replace that. Our vets wrote the biggest check, and they continue to do so, " LaLonde added, as he referred to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health issue that continues to affect veterans.

Statistics on military-related PTSD stretch as far back as the Vietnam War.

Reports from the Veterans Administration reveal that the number of veterans with PTSD varies by service era. Between 11 and 20 percent of every 100 veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are identified as having PTSD in a given year.

PTSD doesn't end there. Approximately 12 out of every 100 Gulf War veterans are diagnosed with PTSD in a given year. In addition, the VA estimates that 30 percent or 30 out of every 100 of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Like Dave LaLonde, Judge Jodi Debbrecht Switalski of the 51st District Court in Waterford is dedicated to helping veterans who are struggling with mental health issues related to military service. The impact of nonprofit groups like the Friends of the Veterans Treatment Court is "powerful," said Switalski.

"Having my children was number one in my life, my work with veterans is number two," Switalski said. "We can't just treat the individual because there are so many needs. If they don't have jobs, education, housing and family support, we are setting them up for failure. We help them help themselves."

Initial funding for the treatment court comes from a federal grant, but funding to help the veterans with daily essentials are a direct result of fund-raising events like the LaLonde Charity Open, Switalski said.

"We are working on a grand scale thanks to the LaLonde family," she said.

Potential treatment court participants are initially found in the general population of offenders. To more quickly identify at risk vets, the Oakland County Jail now screens for veterans during the intake process, Switalski said.

"Our whole purpose is to assist as many veterans as we can."

Veterans are especially vulnerable to opioid addiction, often to mask the muscular skeletal pain created from carrying 150 pounds of gear, Switalski said.

"The rate of opioid addiction among veterans is skyrocketing. This is the greatest addiction we have ever seen."

During the alternative 18 to 24 month treatment court program, vets are assigned a mentor who sticks closely by them, giving financial support for such basics as food and transportation.

"We come in hard and fast," Switalski said. "Drug and alcohol testing is administered, finances examined and mentors assigned."

Rhett Reader is the mentor coordinator for the North Oakland County Veterans Treatment Court. Reader, a mental health professional and a veteran, was asked to help by Switalski.

"We can take a young man or woman who is getting into some kind of trouble and give them the help they need," Reader said.

"We are just starting to discover what the impact on veterans of these two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) has been," Reader said. "Veterans comprise one third of the homeless population in this country and the number of reported suicides among vets nationally is around 24 daily."

Reader credits much of the success of the mentoring program to those who, upon completing the plan, become mentors. Currently, there are more than a dozen mentors who have graduated from the treatment court, Reader said. "What we are doing now is saving peoples' lives."

Not long after Reader became involved with the mentoring program, the LaLondes focused their charitable efforts on the Veterans Treatment Court. "They picked us," Reader said. "We use the money from their fund-raiser to fill in the gaps in a vet's life. If they don't have the money to get by then they can't get to a program. It's really paid off."

Information about the LaLonde Charity Open is available at http://lalondecharityopen.com and through http://strengththroughsupport.org/newsandevents.html.

Published: Tue, Jun 23, 2015

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