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Photos by Frank Weir

Veterans Recovery Court graduates eight participants

By Frank Weir
Legal News

The Washtenaw County Veterans Recovery Court held a graduation ceremony on April 1 in the Ann Arbor Justice Center. Judge Christopher Easthope, who started the program two years ago, oversaw the proceedings, that included Judge Joseph Burke, Washtenaw County Administrator Verna McDaniel, and numerous Ann Arbor City Council and Washtenaw County Commissioners.

Five of the graduates were U.S. Army veterans, two had served in the U.S. Navy, and one in the Marines corps. All men, most had served in the global war on terror.

Guest speaker Captain Joe Evans, Commanding Officer, University of Michigan Navy ROTC, congratulated the graduates on staying the course in the court program even though the 18-month challenge was not always easy.

Judge Easthope and Court Coordinator Darius Robinson presented the Service Commendation Award, the court's highest honor, to McDaniel who was instrumental in helping the court receive funding for its operation.

"When we were getting off the ground, our funding was uncertain," Easthope said. "I contacted Verna and she didn't hesitate. She made it happen and here we are."

The Recovery Court also honored Lt. Eric Kunath, Washtenaw County director of Correctional Services and a Marine Corps veteran.

"Lt. Kunath was instrumental, along with the VA, in developing a reliable method for identifying veterans in the jail population," Robinson says. "We wanted to honor his contribution to our program and thank him for all he has done for veterans."

At the post-graduation reception, each veteran received a handmade quilt, donated by volunteer Kathy Schillaci and her quilting group. Schillaci was accompanied by her 6-year-old Dalmatian, Dellma, a therapy dog who provides emotional support to the veterans at each court hearing.

"These veterans worked extremely hard to overcome their own issues and our rigorous program standards," Robinson says. "They earned the right to feel proud of their recovery, and we are proud of them for their service and their efforts."

The Recovery Court, one of more than 100 similar courts across the country, focuses on individualized support for substance abuse and mental health treatment while providing veterans with a community environment that encourages law-abiding behavior. Judge Easthope and a team of volunteers and professionals coordinate mental health and substance abuse services while providing housing and family support. The Recovery Court, that replaces conventional probation, expedites access to veteran-specific resources, including benefits and treatment earned through military service, by involving the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care networks, the Veterans Benefits Administration, State Departments of Veterans Affairs, volunteer veteran mentors, Washtenaw County Department of Veterans Affairs, and veteran's family support organizations.

A Veterans Affairs representative and a staff member from Home of New Vision, a local nonprofit providing programs and services to help those affected by addiction, attend each hearing and assist participants. Also, the same prosecutor and defense attorney attend each hearing to allow continuity over the length of the veteran's participation.

Each participant is also assigned a mentor, honorably discharged veterans recruited and trained by Dr. Eric Fretz from the University of Michigan, a retired Navy veteran who served two deployments in the Middle East.

Most of the graduates will continue to get treatment from the VA and remain active in the recovery community.

"We encourage the graduates to stop by the court to say 'hi' when they can," Robinson says. "A few of them we will recruit to be mentors. All graduates are invited to join their fellow veterans for coffee and donuts before each Veterans Court review hearing.

"I'm amazed at how supportive some of our graduates have been in helping current participants get through issues and the program, it really shows how the veterans community is so closely knit and supportive."

The program, that graduated one veteran in 2013, and 14 in 2014, and that has had two women graduates, will hold another graduation this fall.

Photos by Frank Weir

Published: Thu, Apr 16, 2015

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