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Several counties, such as Ramsey, don’t have a formal veterans court but have set up a protocol for vets that partly mirrors how the formal ones operate. District Judge Jon Stafsholt, a Vietnam veteran, has developed a protocol in his sprawling district covering 13 counties in western Minnesota. He received a grant to hire a veterans advocate to work in Pope and Stevens counties.
Getting veterans to admit they may have problems to tackle and to consider vets court is difficult because they have been trained to be self-sufficient and tough it out, said Iraq war vet and former state Rep. John Kriesel, Anoka County’s director of veteran services. Outreach to the county’s nearly 28,000 vets is a big part of his job, which he started a year ago.
“The wars have been going on for so long now that everybody knows a story or somebody who has been involved,” Kriesel said.
The vets court session in Anoka in April showed the variety of issues facing participants. One man was told by District Judge Jenny Walker Jasper that some officials favored his removal from the program because he wasn’t taking his requirements seriously. In the end, the judge allowed him to stay on.
Another veteran talked about his post-traumatic stress disorder therapy and “learning to battle false beliefs of the world and what happened to me in Iraq.” A third vet was struggling over his gravely ill father. He was new to the court after getting his fourth DWI since 2006.
But the first order of business was Vevea’s graduation. Walker Jasper talked of how he “served our country with distinction” and said, “We are sure we won’t be seeing you here again.” After she spoke, the entire courtroom stood and applauded.
Vevea was too emotional to speak to a reporter that day, but agreed to an interview several weeks later. He hadn’t heard about vets court until a lawyer advocated for him. He never missed any of his couple’s counseling, anger management, and drug and alcohol classes. He admitted it was painful to rehash war experiences and mistakes he had made in his personal life.
But Vevea said being surrounded by veterans and caring people working for the court helps ease the trauma for those “who have seen horrific things.”
“You don’t want to relive it again, but it impacts your life,” he said. “You are forced by the court to deal with it and you attack it.”
David Chanen • 612-673-4465