Treatment court helps veterans battling addictions

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | February 19, 2020

Three veterans graduate from Brown County treatment program during ceremony

GREEN BAY — It was a graduation like no other. Three military veterans received diplomas Jan. 17 at the Brown County Courthouse from Circuit Court Judge Beau Liegeois for completing the Brown County Veterans Treatment Court program.

Edwart Fortier holds his diploma of graduation from the Brown County Veterans Treatment Program following a graduation ceremony Jan. 17. Presenting the diploma to Fortier was Circuit Court Judge Beau Liegeois. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“These are three individuals who served their country honorably,” Liegeois told courtroom guests at the beginning of the morning graduation service. “They had struggles after their time in the service and they’ve undertaken a rigorous treatment program in this court. That is a significant accomplishment I would put next to any accomplishment that anybody could do. We are very proud of the three individuals that we have here today.”

Liegeois, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, told The Compass that the veterans treatment program is for armed services veterans “who commit an offense because of a substance abuse or mental health issue related to their military service.”

“There is significant monitoring by multiple agencies and direct accountability to the court if there are any violations of rules,” added Liegeois. “Our program integrates resources at the local, state and federal level to help our veteran participants.”

The three graduates are Edward Fortier, Kenneth Greetan and Adam Zimdars. Before presenting certificates of graduation to the three veterans, Liegeois told the courtroom — filled with family and friends of the graduates, as well as community leaders — that the veterans treatment court is a community effort. “Our motto is, ‘We leave no veteran behind,’” he said. “We put a lot of effort into identifying veterans who come into the criminal justice system.”

Liegeois explained that when veterans are incarcerated, “they are actually ashamed a little bit that they’ve gotten into this situation, so they are reluctant to even identify themselves as a veteran. Sometimes a case goes pretty far in the process before anybody even finds that out.”

Adam Zimdars, left, and Kenneth Greetan, military veterans who struggled with addictions before completing a treatment program for veterans, watch as Taylor Geske, treatment court case manager, prepares to serve a graduation cake. The graduation ceremony took place Jan. 17 at the Brown County Courthouse. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“But once we do identify them, then we do a comprehensive evaluation of what their treatment needs are,” he added. “We have the DA’s office review the case to make sure that it’s in the public safety to accept them in the program and then they commence treatment.”

Liegeois, who served with the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a judge advocate from 2010 to 2018, has been part of the veterans treatment court since it began in 2012. “I was a prosecutor in the program before I became judge,” he said. “Now, I feel like I’ve been training my whole life as a civilian and a military service member to be the judge of this program. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to do it.”

Since it began, 66 veterans have graduated from the program.

In addition to the veterans treatment court, Brown County also offers a drug treatment court, heroin treatment court, mental health treatment court and OWI treatment court, said Liegeois. “Brown County is a leader in alternatives to incarceration programming,” he said. “I’m a Catholic and I believe that everybody can be redeemed. Even after making mistakes in your life, you can learn from them. You can seek treatment and counseling and become a productive member of society.”

The three graduates told The Compass that they had made mistakes in their lives and were grateful that the treatment court helped them overcome their addictions.

“Like the verse in the Bible says, ‘blessings will come up behind you and take you over,’” said Fortier, 65, who is an Army veteran. “That’s what happened in the last year in a nutshell. It’s overwhelming the help (the program offers), as long as you keep them updated, as long as you keep them involved in your life and you accept the fact that you’ve got to be involved in this. It’s about not lying. It’s about total disclosure. God has transformed me. I’m a different person.”

Zimdars served three tours of duty in Iraq from 2001 to 2005 with the Marines. “I had a problem with drugs,” he said. “The support and the accountability I received from the treatment court, the judges and mentors — It saved my life. They got me involved in programs after my treatment, including narcotics anonymous.”

His advice to other veterans: “You’re not the first vet who has gone through issues and you won’t be the last one. We are here to help,” he said. “Reach out, ask questions. You’re not alone.”

Greetan served in the Navy from 1986 to 1989, plus five years in the Navy Reserve. In addition to anger management issues, he was arrested for dealing methamphetamines.

“If it wasn’t for everything lining up perfectly for me, and having God being in my corner, I never would be where I am today,” he said. “When I got here, I was in a pretty dark spot. I didn’t trust anybody and I gave up on society in general. If it wouldn’t have been for my daughter and the judge here, I probably would be dead.”

Greetan said he completed a 26-week anger management/domestic violence course with Catholic Charities of Green Bay as part of his treatment. “It was a tremendous program. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about it,” he said. “This whole process, there were so many things that happened that were a miracle for me I can’t even tell you. So I’m pretty fortunate.”

Liegeois said that mentors are an important part of the veterans treatment court. He said the court is always in need of new mentors.

“If there is an armed services veteran out there who would like to help other veterans in our program, the commitment is being in court every Friday at 9 a.m. and meeting with their participant once a week,” he said. “We actually do consider it an advantage if they’ve been through something similar themselves, like someone recovering” from an addiction.

Veterans who are interested in learning more about the treatment program can call Liegeois at (920) 660-7313.

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