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Blue Earth County's Veterans Court Opens Doors

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BLUE EARTH COUNTY, Minn. -

Court was in session on Friday in Mankato as people took their turn appearing before a judge.
 
But in one courtroom, all of the people appearing before the judge were veterans.

For veterans in court, the courtroom provided the chance to get the help they needed.
 
"Some of us came back broken...and we weren't the same people that went to Vietnam," said Danny Riggs, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
 
A vet himself, Judge Brad Walker presided over Friday's Veterans Court proceedings.
 
"The folks that have been in the program have not had any violations that the probation agent has deemed sufficient to come back for consequences," Walker said.

Veterans Court coordinator Kevin Mettler says the idea behind the program is to keep vets on the right track and give them assistance.
 
"That's our goal of this court, it's real service-orientated," Mettler said. "We're going to meet with these veterans, figure out what services they need and then go after them--try to help them get there, and along with taking care of their probationary needs."
 
For Riggs, life after service resulted in intersecting with the judicial system.
 
"I'm a repeat DUI offender, I'd venture to guess 6 or 7 DUI cases; 2 prison terms, Riggs said.

For multiple years now, Mettler has been working with Riggs.
 
"We're going out, and we're looking out for his needs--trying to help him get his license back, trying to help him get his mental health and physical health needs met through this program," Mettler said.

Reggie Worlds of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs says Veterans Court provides vets with an opportunity to move forward.
 
"It's a great opportunity for these guys to come in, and you know they want to be accountable for their actions, they want to also feel that they are, you know, moving in a positive direction in order to get themselves back on the right track," Worlds said.
 
According to the Minnesota Judicial Branch, Veterans Court in the 5th Judicial District is a voluntary 12-18-month program. The district court judge leads the multi-disciplinary team of professionals who assist vets.
 
"The resources that are available in the veterans court are you know really unparallel to probably in any other setting across the veterans community," said Worlds. It brings in housing, it brings in benefits, it brings in mental health, it brings in community support."
 
Riggs say the program has only provided him with positives.
 
"I don't see this as punishment to tell you the truth," Riggs said. "I see this as a chance of being able to get my life back together and getting help in the process."
 
The prosecuting attorney has to give consent for referral to the Veterans Court. If you are a vet who's been charged with a crime and would like more information, contact the public defender's office at (507) 389-5138.