SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — They are called Problem-Solving Courts. In South Dakota, they have proven to be the most successful way of keeping people with substance use and mental health disorders out of the criminal justice system. The goal is to move them into lives of recovery and stability rather than prison.
Military veterans Terry Bingham and Mathew Trujillo-Olsen are on to new and better lives.
They are the latest South Dakota Veterans Court graduates presided over by Judge Eric Johnson.
“The two of you have put in a lot of work, and I couldn’t be more proud not only for the work that you’ve done on yourselves but you have exemplified the fact that we don’t leave people behind,” Judge Johnson said.
Bingham calls it a second chance. He is attending college full-time and plans to become a social worker helping others battling addiction.
“Life as an addict is miserable. There’s no fun in it. It’s no pleasure. It’s just something, once you start you can’t get out of, and this program gives you the tools and the opportunity to start over and live life again happy,” Bingham said.
The Commencement Speaker was South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Mark Salter, a Navy Veteran who helped start Veterans Court in South Dakota.
“It’s a journey, an extraordinary journey when you think about where you began and where you got today,” Salter said.
He told those attending that their military training and the built-in brotherhood give them an edge. Johnson says these are men and women we owe a debt to and need to care for.
“To me, a program like this trying to get them back to being the types of folks, productive citizens and healthy people that they were when they were serving the country is a mission that we should all embrace,” Johnson said.
Veterans court was formed in 2016, and Salter was the first presiding judge. The program’s coordinator says they need mentors. These veterans can volunteer to be a sounding board for the men and women going through the program.