May 15, 2019 10:43 PM
A Minnesota lawmaker is pushing to keep veterans out of jail.
“If we can afford to send our young people overseas to fight our battles, we can afford to take care of them when they come back,” said Minnesota Rep. Rob Ecklund.
He has introduced a bill that would instead funnel arrested veterans into treatment for trauma. It was introduced in the House version of the state government finance and veterans affairs bill. It's still under consideration in the House conference committee.
“I think it will be a good way to help veterans assimilate back into our society,” said Rep. Ecklund.
It offers a second chance by setting new sentencing standards.
If a veteran claims their offense is related to trauma suffered while serving in the military, and their medical records support the claim, the court can order them to attend a treatment program.
It excludes serious crimes like homicide and criminal sexual conduct.
The legislation also calls for a judge to dismiss the proceedings against a veteran once they successfully complete treatment, are no longer considered a threat to others, and show career development and contributions to the community.
“I’d probably be worse off, I know I’d be worse off,” said Marko Milosevic, an Army veteran, whose case is an example for how the program would work.
Milosevic enlisted when he was 17-years-old in April, 2001.
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“I wanted to give something back to the country that had given my family everything,” he said.
Milosevic’s father came to the United States in the 1970’s, fleeing communism in the former Yugoslavia.
A few months after he joined the Army, terrorists attacked the World Trade Centers on 9/11. He was deployed in November, 2001.
It was the first of 12 combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq with the second battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment under Joint Special Operations Command.
“It was an absolute privilege for me to serve my country,” said Milosevic.
He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he was about to reenlist for life, when he was honorably discharged because of the toll that war had taken on his body and mind.
He served for 13-and-a-half years.
“It is difficult because essentially you’re not necessarily choosing to leave the Army, the Army chose to leave you,” said Milosevic. “You have to accept that and that was very hard for me. When I got out after that, I started to try to find that comradery.”
He said he turned to alcohol and drugs, which culminated in a drunken fight with his wife. He was charged with assault.
“When I landed myself in the Beltrami County Jail, I realized where I was and that I had pretty much hit rock bottom,” said Milosevic.
He became connected with Brock Hunter, president of the Veterans Defense Project. Hunter gave Milosevic a chance by convincing a judge to send him to treatment instead of jail.
“We recognize that opportunity for redemption is really critical for a lot of veterans,” said Hunter.
For the last 18 months, Hunter has been working on the bill to make that a state standard.
“The opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction if they take responsibility for themselves and they accept all of the treatment they are recommended by the VA,” said Hunter. “It requires the veteran to confront their demons and process traumatic memories they would otherwise want to repress and self-medicate away.”
According to Hunter, there are veteran’s courts in 12 counties statewide. This bill would create a set of standards for all 87 counties.
A law allowing for veterans courts passed in 2008, which Hunter called “a great step forward”. This new bill benefits from the past decade.
“We’ve basically come in and said some of these practices work and some don't,” he said.
For Milosevic, the implications are huge. He said he would not have sought therapy to deal with PTSD, or counseling with his wife, otherwise.
He and his wife now mentor other couples with the transition to civilian life.
“This legislation will give veterans a second chance,” said Milosevic.
The bill is getting national attention. The Veteran's Defense Project has been invited to brief President Donald Trump's administration and Congressional leaders in June.
Updated: May 15, 2019 10:43 PM
Created: May 15, 2019 10:26 PM
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