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 41-B District Court Judge Carrie Lynn Fuca presents a certificate to U.S. Army veteran Brandon Petrykowski May 10 during the Macomb County Veterans Treatment Court graduation event. It was held at the courthouse in Clinton Township.

41-B District Court Judge Carrie Lynn Fuca presents a certificate to U.S. Army veteran Brandon Petrykowski May 10 during the Macomb County Veterans Treatment Court graduation event. It was held at the courthouse in Clinton Township.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Military veterans graduate from treatment court program

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 21, 2018

 Mike Gardner, a veterans court mentor, right, gives a challenge coin to graduate and U.S. Marine vet Bill Henninger.

Mike Gardner, a veterans court mentor, right, gives a challenge coin to graduate and U.S. Marine vet Bill Henninger.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Mike Bellman, a U.S. Air Force vet and program grad, talks about how heroin impacted his life for more than 40 years

Mike Bellman, a U.S. Air Force vet and program grad, talks about how heroin impacted his life for more than 40 years

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Ryan Zemke, 41-B District Court magistrate, referenced former heavyweight champion boxer George Foreman, saying that whenever you fall to the mat, it’s about getting up and fighting back.

Zemke’s analogy was in reference to the military veterans who graduated from the Macomb County Veterans Treatment Court May 10. A group of 14 individuals who served in the armed forces were able to overcome their addictions through a two-year sobering process.

“They don’t want to be a statistic,” Zemke said.

The 14 individuals honored included Brad Barton, Army; Mike Bellman, Air Force; Mike Foyt, Army; Shawn Garner, Navy; Doug Hansen, Army; Andrew Hawkins, Navy; J.D. Jiles, Army; Bill Henninger, Marines; Ronnie Larkin, Army; Jeff McKay, Navy; Sal Palazzolo, Army; Brandon Petrykowski, Army; Albert Smith, Army; and Terry Tavi, Air Force.

Guests of honor included Judges David Viviano and Elizabeth Clement, who noted that there are now 25 veterans courts in Michigan, grown from just eight courts four years ago.

Clement said mentors help lead the vets to the path of sobriety, with court judges working around their dockets to make time for each individual. It also leads to a decrease in the recidivism rate, with recovering addicts being five to seven times less likely to repeat offenses.

Michigan has the most veteran courts in the nation, Zemke said, adding that about 75 percent of vets who enter the program never see handcuffs again.

“It takes a lot of passion and dedication. … It leaves me with the sense we’re investing in programs that have the right people involved,” Clement said.

Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Mark Switalski and 41-B District Court Judge Carrie Lynn Fuca presented the graduates with their certificates, speaking fondly of how the vets all conquered personal pitfalls to graduate and start the next chapters of their lives.

“You’ve already given yourselves to us, and that’s remarkable,” Fuca said.

There were individuals like Barton, who presented a challenge to the treatment court staff prior to using his unique writing abilities to convey his thoughts and emotions in required journal entries.

Larkin was arrested in Oakland County following a drinking binge prompted by his aunt’s death due to cancer. His younger sister then died from cancer during the program.

Hawkins, a user of pain medications for 30 years, was involved in a serious car accident and walked away unscathed. He viewed it as a sign to get sober.

Palazzolo spent two years getting clean, describing how his entire life was composed of traumatic experiences. 

Henninger lost his 23-year-old stepdaughter in a Jet Skiing accident last summer.

Others, like Smith, didn’t even have a vehicle to get to and from treatment. He still made it work, showing up in dress attire, no longer lying to himself.

“The program is great if you put the work in to allow it to work for you,” Smith said.

Bellman, a Vietnam vet, used heroin for 45 years. After 21 days of treatment, his life changed.

McKay, a hard worker with six kids, was an alcoholic. Now two years sober, it’s the longest he’s ever gone without a drop of alcohol.

Hansen also drank, starting in high school and going sober for 17 years before falling off the wagon for five or six years. He said, “I truly believe the program saved my life.”

And then there’s Tavi, who spent 20 months rehabilitating himself. He was uncomfortable discussing his issues at first, though court staff struck a chord by making him aware of the toxicity of individuals in his life and how the negativity impactd his addiction.

Now, after completing steps one through eight of the 12-step program, he has re-established a relationship with his three children and works as a carpenter.

“I’ve learned to accept that humility is key to my recovery. … Life has been a lesson of what I can control and cannot control,” Tavi said. “It’s the difference between effort and surrender.”

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