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Ramsey County Steps Up the Stepwork

Ramsey County

Ramsey County Steps Up the Stepwork

Just because a county has the second largest number of residents doesn’t mean much when you consider it’s first in line for population density. It means even less when you’ve got a population that can be tied to every country in the world. Such is the case for Ramsey County, home county of Minnesota state capitol Saint Paul and home to one of the most diverse populations in America.

And a very crowded home it is. That means the county comes with all the things that make living within its borders a challenge, And treatment of its veterans tops the list.

Especially addicted veterans, and/or those suffering some kind of mental disorder. NIDA says that more than one in ten veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which is slightly higher than the general population. That adds up to over 1.1 million formerly uniformed Americans suffering from substance abuse. Americans who served this country in good faith, many of whom have been kicked to the curb.

Not anymore, says County Attorney John Choi. Choi applauded the network that has formed behind the Veterans Treatment Court, from state house guards to State House dignitaries, all of whom are essential to the program’s success.

“The program wouldn’t have started but for people who have said yes,” Choi said. “It’s a community coming together. It’s a system of justice coming together and saying that we could do better.”

And better they’ve done. Now, after celebrating a decade, the court can boast 66 full graduates. That’s 66 lives that have been saved from the chopping block; 66 families that have been reunited; 66 stories that get to be retold.

Ramsey County Veterans Treatment Court

Speaking at the 5th anniversary ceremony, Choi commended the partners who helped get the specialty court off the ground without funding. They included judges, prosecutors, public defenders, veterans advocates and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he said.

County Attorney Choi also commended the graduates, one of whom was Alexander Kempe, a 37-year-old Iraq War veteran. We got the goods from Kevin Featherly of Minnesota Lawyer.

Suffering from what he called “reintegration issues,” he was accepted into the Ramsey County Veterans Court in 2016 while facing a gross misdemeanor charge for violating an order for protection.

While a vet’s court participant, Kempe obtained housing through a joint HUD and Veterans Affairs program, then got his own place. He got a job with Disabled American Veterans as a part-time driver, then was promoted to claims processor. He still works there.

While going through the program, he got addiction treatment through the VA Medical Center in St. Cloud, went through aftercare, participated in a mentoring program and cognitive therapy groups, and began working toward completion of a master’s degree. He has also reconnected with his kids, he said.
After completing the program, his Ramsey County criminal case was dismissed.

“It was an absolute blessing,” Kempe said.

He said that completing the demanding program reminded him of a soldier’s core values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage — all of which he thought he had lost forever.

“Today I am able to hold my head high without looking over my shoulder, which is a huge relief,” he said.
It seems to be but a natural progression for a program that prides itself on honesty and individual accountability.

Honesty and Accountability

Ensuring the participants maintain an aura of honesty and accountability are a smorgasbord of community outfits, including Minnesota’s Second Judicial District, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the Ramsey County Veterans Services Office, Ramsey County Community Corrections, the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office, the Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office, Project Remand, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Ramsey County Human Services. All of whom said “Yes!” as County Attorney Choi made clear.

Choi himself is a bit of a maverick. Named the first Korean American county prosecutor back in 2011, he too has teamed with a network of power players, and currently serves on the boards of Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Veterans Defense Project, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Policing Institute, the Karpel Foundation and A Call to Men, which boasts partnerships with all major sports organizations, including MLS and the NFL.

When you surround yourself with pedigree, pedigree will follow. Same applies to honesty and accountability.

Healing Properties wholeheartedly applauds Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and the Veterans Treatment Court, as well as the numerous upstanding organizations that have its back. We also applaud the Court’s first graduates. It can’t be easy being under a microscope, especially when its your life at stake, but they’ve taken a solid stand. Guess honest and accountability do make a difference after all!

Image Alexander Kempe, graduate of Ramsey County Veterans Treatment Court, by Kevin Featherly, Minnesota Lawyer.

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