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McLean County Veterans Court Seeks To Overcome Resistance Of Self-Reliance

McLean County Veterans Court
Eric Stock
Marinna Metoyer, left, Cassy Taylor and Nick Pate say veterans court can be an important resource for veterans who need mental health or substance abuse treatment when they end up in the criminal justice system.

McLean County's new veterans court is looking to grow after having its first two success stories.The intensive program recently honored it first two graduates. There are now 21 veterans in the program getting substance abuse or mental health treatment.

McLean County Court Services Director Cassy Taylor explained the challenge in offering help to those who have served in the military.

“That resistance is real because they are pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be independent and fix their own problems,” Taylor said. “I think that is ingrained into them in the military. However we present this as this is our way of giving back to them and they have earned this.”

Veterans court is staffed largely by those with military backgrounds, including Nick Pate, who is a case manager from the Center for Youth and Family Solutions in Bloomington. He said being a former Marine helps him connect with the veterans to ensure they stay on the right path.

“The whole point of being surrounded by all these veterans that are on the team is they can say, ‘You don’t understand what I’m going through,’ and we can say, ‘Yes I do,’” Pate said.

The veterans court is McLean County’s third problem-solving court, following drug court (formed in 2006) and recovery court (2010).

Veterans court is generally available to nonviolent offenders whose cases are probation eligible. Depending on their level of risk, they are able to complete the program within 12 to 24 months. Unlike the county's other problem-solving courts, veterans court graduates have their charges automatically dismissed. 

Some veterans may decide they wish to fight the charges filed against them or that a court-imposed sentence would be less onerous at least in the short term.

Marinna Metoyer is an assistant public defender in McLean County and is a retired Judge Advocate General officer in the Air Force.

She said several of the court’s participants have wavered in their commitment to the program. She reminds those who consider dropping out that they are then left to the mercy of the criminal justice system.

“They always hear the same thing from us, is obviously it’s voluntary, but we believe you can do this,” Metoyer said. “We don’t want you to take the easy way out. A lot of times it happens in the first six months because they now have to address the issues that brought them to you court and we don’t want them to give up until they have fully engaged in the services.”

The first two graduates declined GLT’s request for an interview. One was allowed to complete the program early after they were called back into active duty and is now serving in Afghanistan.

The veterans court serves the entire Eleventh Judicial Circuit which covers McLean, Livingston, Logan, Ford and Woodford counties. It has capacity for 40 participants.

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Eric Stock is a reporter at WGLT.