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Rochester

Court Helps Vets Set Lives Straight

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Rochester: Court Helps Vets Set Lives Straight
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A growing number

of military veterans are

finding themselves on

the wrong side of the

law. Because of

that, the Monroe County court system

has a brand new justice program to

deal with veterans, and lower

recidivism.

The men in judge

Patricia Marks’ courtroom Monday had

at least one thing in

common: service to their

country. But the skills

taught for survival

in combat don't

always translate

coming back into the

community.

Some people find

that out the hard way.

“I've been going though this

almost 20 years now,” said Michael Thomas of Rochester, an Army veteran who’s battled years of drug and

alcohol abuse. A petit larceny charge two years ago left Thomas

with two choices:

Get help, or go to

jail.

“I finally decided to get my life in order,” said Thomas, 45. “I've wasted

plenty of time.”

Monroe County Veterans Court gives

people like Michael a

chance to help themselves. Local courts see 50 to 80 new cases involving

military veterans

each month.

“As more

veterans are

returning from combat

we found a need to

segregate,” said Judge Marks, who oversees Veterans Court. “We found a

need to have a separate track with

separate services.”

Non-violent

offenders who steal,

shoplift or possess

drugs or weapons can

be eligible for Veterans Court. Many have a tough

time adjusting to civilian life after

their service, say counselors.

“A lot of

things that were

necessary for their

survival overseas

are problematic back

here in the States,” said Greg McClure, case worker for the Veterans Outreach Center of Rochester.

Veterans Court is

in many ways similar

to drug court or mental health court, which the county also runs. Participants can

avoid jail time by following through on

recommended

treatment.

“Hopefully

we'll be able to get

to those guys and get

their problems

addressed before

their crimes become

much more severe,” said McClure.

Some are already

on the right track. Michael Thomas received congratulations from the judge Monday for completing one full year of sobriety. On turning his own

life around, Thomas knows it's just the

beginning.

He's thankful for

the chance.

“It's been a tough journey,” he said.

“But it's worth it."

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