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Serving those who served



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Independence Township Supervisor Pat Kittle, who is reading a township proclamation at the Fourth of July Independence Fest recognizing the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War, is volunteering with the Veterans' Court. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
July 09, 2014 - Pat Kittle, Independence Township Supervisor, has vowed to help veterans after witnessing problems and pain they can face.

His son, David Kittle, passed away last year after he lost his battle with addiction, a habit he picked up while serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Knowing what Pat went through with his son, Clarkston's 52-2 District Court Judge Kelly Kostin asked him to be on the Friends of the Oakland County Regional Veterans' Court board of directors.

Pat took her up on her offer.

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"For me, volunteering is a labor of love," he said.

Kostin said soldiers who come home with physical, mental, and/or emotional injuries may not know where to turn for help, instead turning to substance abuse.

"Many soldiers are in a self-medication mode," she said. "We target alcohol and drug problems."

Drug abuse is not the only trouble soldiers may find when returning home and trying to cope.

"We had one female veteran who needed housing, and the courts were able to get her housing in 24 hours," Kostin said.

Pat, who has spoken at events about the issue, said veterans in trouble take drugs to numb themselves from pain, and they end up in a vicious cycle. When medications they are used to taking are gone or they can't get them, they turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative. That is when they get in trouble with the law.

Everyday sounds can feel much more threatening to a combat veteran than a civilian. Something like a car backfiring or a fireworks can evoke memories of a detonated bomb or other explosive devices, Kostin said.

"A car backfiring can bring back memories of trauma." said Kostin. "People are becoming more aware of how hard it is for our soldiers to get reintegrated into civilian life. Soldiers need more than just a handshake and a 'thank you very much' when they come home."

Similar courts are popping up across the country. Waterford 51st District Court Judge Jodi Debbrecht-Switalski headed up Waterford's Veterans Court, formed in 2013. Debbrecht-Switalski is also the presiding judge for the new regional court, which includes Independence and Waterford townships.

Courts in different communities combine forces and share resources, said Kostin, who serves as an alternate judge in the Veterans' Court.

"There has been a push in the legal system for jurisdictions to combine resources to make programs and services more efficient," she said. "The Veteran's Court has been successful at combining resources and serving as a shortcut to soldiers for numerous services and resources."

To participate, veterans must be honorably discharged from the service, and must not be charged with a serious offense like rape or murder.

Courts also work with the Veteran's Administration, community service, counseling, probation, mentorship, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and administer a 12-step program.

"The main benefit is it keeps them out of jail," said Kostin. "We provide the tools."

Soldiers participating in special programs graduate and receive tokens symbolizing their success and hard work.

"We have found it works well and is successful," said Kostin.

Friends of the Veteran's Court are working together to address funding needs that help fund the court and also train mentors.

"We help them reintegrate, and become a good citizen again. They were there for us," said Kostin. "We need to be there for them."

Supporters are organizing a fund raiser for the court. The Support Our Troops Charity Open Golf Outing is Sunday, July 20, at Boulder Pointe Golf Club, One Champions Circle, in Oxford. Cost is $150 per golfer, and $85 for wine tasting and dinner. For more information, call Ozzie at 248-648-8003 or Tania at 248-370-6638.

Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.
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