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Cook County court program aids veterans

Members American Legiraises new flag Circuit Court Cook County Fifth Municipal District Friday June 13th 2014 Bridgeview. | Gary Middendorf/for

Members of the American Legion raises the new flag at the Circuit Court of Cook County Fifth Municipal District, Friday, June 13th, 2014, in Bridgeview. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 16, 2014 6:39AM



Before a ceremony Friday to replace the American flag outside the Cook County courthouse in Bridgeview, courthouse officials took an opportunity to publicize a special court program to help veterans in the criminal justice system.

In a meeting room in the courthouse’s lower level, judges, probation officers, a Department of Veterans Affairs official and a veteran discussed the Cook County Veterans Treatment Court, commonly called veterans court, which has been in place since 2010.

The court puts veterans charged with nonviolent crimes in touch with lawyers and counseling to help them get their lives back on track and overcome substance abuse and emotional problems, said Circuit Court Judge Joan O’Brien, who is in charge of the program at Bridgeview.

Those who agree to volunteer for the court program are reviewed for eligibility by the state’s attorney’s office to ensure that their criminal background meets the requirements.

Circuit Court Judge Raymond Jagielski, the presiding judge at the Bridgeview courthouse, said the veterans court has a dual purpose.

“We went to help them, and we want to let them know that we have services here that maybe some people don’t know we have,” Jagielski said. “We shouldn’t turn out backs on our veterans. We have systems here in place to help them.”

Eugene Kimmons, 54, of Chicago’s East Chatham neighborhood, is one of those veterans who has been helped.

Kimmons, who served on an aircraft carrier in the late 1970s, was convicted of drunken driving in 1982, and his license was revoked. He was arrested seven times for driving on a revoked license and was facing two years in prison in December 2010.

That’s when O’Brien and the veterans court intervened. Kimmons got the legal help and other counseling that he needed. He avoided prison but did spend six months in Cook County Jail.

“I was in Division 14 for veterans, low security, fresh air, a lot more privileges,” he said. “If you mess up, (you’re going) to the big house. We had classes every morning. And I had the chance to work in the garden. Every month, I gave a progress report to the judge.”

Kimmons remains grateful that he was given a second chance.

“When Judge O’Brien looked hard at me and said I’d be accepted into the program, my heart rose into my throat knowing I’d be given another chance,” he said. “I felt like a man, not a number. I was able to hold my head up because Judge O’Brien believed in me. All the veterans are not bad. We just made bad choices.

“Sometimes, we need programs like veterans court to show us our errors, to put us back on track.
We were proud to say we served
our country, and we should be as proud to know this veterans court is here to honor us as well,” Kimmons said.

O’Brien said working with the veterans program has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her career. Some veterans, she said, have drug and alcohol addictions or other issues that lead them into the criminal justice system.

“As the proud daughter of a naval officer, the sister of a Navy vet and the wife of a Marine, I know our veterans have endured great hardships, they’ve seen the horrors of war, they’ve suffered through separation from families,” the judge said. “They’ve all sacrificed so we could enjoy the freedoms we take for granted.

“The least we should do for our brave veterans is to ensure that the government takes a proactive approach to delivering the services and benefits they have earned and access to care they so richly deserve,” O’Brien said.

Following the meeting about veterans court, courthouse officials gathered outside as an honor guard from Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991 in Worth raised a new American flag on the south side of the courthouse in honor of Flag Day, which is observed Saturday.



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