Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · Court For Veterans Sees Tough...
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Court For Veterans Sees Tough Cases

Patrick Sullivan - May 21st, 2012  
Despite setbacks in the first year, judge and volunteers remain hopeful

Perhaps no one represents the promise and potential pitfalls of veteran’s court like Tyler O’Neil, a Coast Guard veteran who in April was the first to graduate from the program.

The special track in the 86th District Court, set up to deal with veterans facing charges, was launched about a year ago and it has seen its share of ups and downs, and at first O’Neil seemed like one of the ups, said District Court Judge Michael Haley.

O’Neil graduated from the program, but days later he was in trouble again.

“You get to like these people, and that’s not always a good thing, because then they can scam you and they can manipulate you and they can lie really well to you,” said Haley, who founded the special veteran’s court.

O’Neil’s graduation ceremony in April was an emotional and moving pause in a courtroom more accustomed to drunk drivers being sent to jail, probation violation sentences and felony preliminary examinations.

O’Neil graduated and was sent on his way and Haley implored O’Neil to stay in touch.

O’Neil would stay in touch with the court system, but not in the way Haley hoped.

A couple of days later, he was picked up for drunk driving in Grand Traverse County. He bonded out of jail and before he could wind up before Haley again he checked in to a Veterans Affairs hospital in Battle Creek.

Although O’Neil was not a combat veteran, he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from working in drug interdiction with the Coast Guard, Haley said.

When he checked out of there on April 26 and did not return up north to face the charge, Haley signed a bench warrant for his arrest and forfeited his bond.

O’Neil originally came to veteran’s court after he was charged with unlawful use of a motor vehicle for taking a van at the Turtle Creek Casino on New Year’s Day, 2011.

“We were so excited about getting this program started, and we were excited he was doing such a good job, but as it turns out, he wasn’t doing so good,” Haley said.


Haley began veterans court because he recognized, like other judges across the country, that veterans posed unique challenges to the criminal justice system.

For the sake of justice and to benefit society, some believe courts should look for ways to help veterans who run into trouble with the law, particularly those who suffer from combat stress, instead of throwing them in jail.

Judge Robert T. Russell Jr. of Buffalo City Court founded the nation’s first special court for veterans in 2008. The Los Angeles Times estimated in March there are around 90 such courts around the country. The first veterans court in Michigan was started by Judge David Jordan in East Lansing in 2010.

The program uses Veterans Administration services administered through the court and it’s loosely based on sobriety court. Defendants meet in court around every three weeks for a status update with the judge and counselors. They are put into intensive probation and paired with mentors who are veterans of the military themselves.

“The fundamental theme in all of these so-called ‘problem-solving’ courts is accountability,” Haley said. “I didn’t understand this when I started this, I thought it was mostly about compliance.”

Despite setbacks, Haley is optimistic and plans to keep working at it.

“I don’t have any experience with PTSD or traumatic brain injury. It took me years to understand addiction to drugs and alcohol and all of that,” said Haley, who around a decade ago was among the first judges in the state to start a sobriety court.

Haley hopes veteran’s court can someday be as successful as sobriety court.

“We’ve got nowhere to go but improve.

This was just a wake-up call for me to understand that you can’t just jump into this program and expect it’s going to be the same as drug court,” he said. “I think it is an excellent program. My program isn’t excellent, but the concept is excellent.”

Haley said he remains committed to making it work because he believes veterans deserve a break in the criminal justice system.

“If anybody deserves special treatment in our court system, it’s these guys,” Haley said.


Of the handful of people that have been through veteran’s court in TC, three others have not completed the program.

Another veteran almost completed the program when he was found on the TART trail with his wrists slashed, Haley said.

That man survived, but he was sent to the VA hospital in Battle Creek for specialized treatment.

Another participant, an older defendant, died of a heart attack.

The most tragic and heartbreaking case is that of a soldier who came back from Iraq in such bad shape he could not manage to adjust to life after the war, wound up in veteran’s court and could not manage.

The soldier, whose family requested he remain unnamed, was a wounded combat veteran who served in the Army. He came to veteran’s court after a drunk driving arrest in September, 2011.

He probably did not belong in the program at all, however, Haley said.

That’s because the program is built upon the concept that participants should achieve and maintain sobriety, and the soldier’s war wounds were so severe that he needed to remain on opiates.

Haley said the soldier was injured when he was on an upper floor of a building in Iraq that blew up and he suffered severe spinal injuries and other wounds.

“He comes back a mess, he’s got part of his ear gone, he’s on three different opiates,” Haley said. “We tried to work with him for a couple of months and it just became clear, no, he just couldn’t do it.”

He was transferred to Battle Creek for treatment and he died of a drug overdose earlier this year while out on a weekend pass, Haley said. Haley said the drug overdose appeared to have been unintentional.

“How he got a weekend pass from the VA when he’s down there for opiate addiction, I don’t know,” Haley said.

Haley attended the soldier’s funeral. He said he thought the death should have been treated like any other war combat death -- the soldier was a war hero just like any other who died of combat wounds, he just happened to have been back in the United States when he took his last breath.


Larry Lelito, a Vietnam vet who has volunteered with the court for six months and who for years has worked with combat veterans attempting to readjust to civilian life, is optimistic the court will do good work.

“I think it’s got a lot of potential and I think it’s something that’s needed and I think it’s going to be a good thing,” he said. “To me, the way I look at it, it’s just a way of serving my country.”

Lelito, a Vietnam veteran, said he understands PTSD, unlike most people.

“I got involved with post traumatic stress issues before people even knew what post traumatic stress was,” said Lelito, a Marine Corps veteran. “It was called battle fatigue, shell shock, combat stress, all kinds of different things.”

He said he sought help for personal problems after Vietnam and found nowhere to turn.

In the 1980s he found a psychologist who specialized in PTSD and he was one of five in the TC area who were trained to help other veterans struggling with issues like anger and substance abuse brought on by combat stress issues.

In fact, Lelito believes today it would be more accurate and useful to use the term “combat stress” instead of PTSD, because PTSD can describe a stress disorder from any kind of trauma, and Lelito believes stress from combat should be considered its own category.

In addition to volunteering as a mentor for veteran’s court, Lelito holds sessions each month with therapy groups for combat veterans.

“The easiest way to deal with stress is with peers, with people who have been through similar circumstances,” he said.

In those therapy groups, Lelito said the object is to tackle issues before they lead to behavior that could cause someone to be arrested and have to enroll in veteran’s court.

“It’s kind of our job to try to catch them before they get to that point,” Lelito said.

Lelito said the help available to those who do wind up in veteran’s court is impressive and, in particular, he praises the help available from the VA, something he said was not available when he came back from Vietnam.

“The VA, I feel right now, is doing a fantastic job of trying to help people with these issues,” he said. “When you get hooked up with the VA here, they take you in and they put you through every test. Whatever your ailment is, it’s going to be addressed.”


Dave Young, another veteran volunteer, got involved with the courts four years ago when he got arrested for drunk driving.

He said he entered Haley’s sobriety court because he was looking for a way to get out of spending a lengthy time in jail.

He said he understands why some vets are reluctant to enter a program like veteran’s court. Part of it is being unable to accept that the criminal justice system might offer something other than punishment.

“If you would have told me that before, that I’m going to go before a judge and he’s going to help me, I would have told you you can kiss my ass,” Young said.

Over time, after going through and successfully completing sobriety court and maintaining sobriety and then volunteering with veteran’s court, Young has come a long way from the day when he wanted to stay sober merely to stay out of jail.

“I just didn’t want to go to jail, to begin with, and then something happened,” he said.

And that, Young said, is what veterans court aims to do. If it works, it will be something that could get people to want to get the help so they can help themselves.

“For a soldier, for a veteran, one of the hardest flipping things is to ask for help,” Young said.

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