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Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001-photo by Jerilee Bennett-Parking stalls stand empty on a weekday at the El Paso County Courthouse.

Colorado’s first Veterans Trauma Court is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, catering to service members with trauma spectrum or substance abuse disorders who want an alternative to incarceration.

The 4th Judicial District, which covers El Paso and Teller counties, was one of the early VTC programs nationwide to work with veterans charged with lower-level felonies.

The Judicial Department notes that the VTC is modeled on drug courts, both of which are known as “problem-solving courts.” Seventy-six such courts operate in Colorado, and also focus on families, DUIs and mental health.

“We are very proud of all the graduates who have worked so hard and exhibited great dedication to complete the program and start to turn their lives around,” said presiding District Judge David Shakes.

Nearly 500 veterans have entered the program, and 326 have completed it. Seven additional participants are expected to graduate on Dec. 5 in the 4th Judicial District, which also trains its peer courts across the country.

In Colorado Springs, one-quarter of the population is affiliated with the military. Veterans charged with crimes may refer themselves or be referred by family and attorneys.

The program is for veterans wishing to take accountability for their actions and seek help with their trauma and/or substance abuse issues that led them into the justice system,” explains the Judicial Department, adding that defendants who believe they are innocent should not enter the VTC.

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