Veterans Treatment Court Honors Graduates 7/4/2018 07/05/18 11:06:19 AM
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Judge Mark Ashford, left, and Sen. John McCollister, right, congratulate the Veterans Treatment Court graduates
at the ceremony June 27. For more photos, see Page 3. (Photos by Lorraine Boyd)
Veterans Treatment Court Honors Graduates
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
Their journey started well over a year ago. Four veterans, who had pled guilty to felonies, had joined more than a dozen more participating in the new Douglas County Veterans Treatment Court, an alternative to incarceration. And on June 27, they celebrated their graduation from the program.
For their hard work – keeping a job, treating their addictions, paying restitution if necessary, following strict rules, meeting often with their mentors, and meeting at least every other week with the judge – they had their felony charges dismissed. If they had failed the program, they would have been sentenced for their crimes.
There were tears of joy, big smiles and inspiring words as the ceremony lauded the first participants’
The graduates – Gerry Crawford, Larry Hart, Deborah Hook and Justin Polland – each took the podium
to express their thanks to a litany of people including the judge, their mentors, their families, and the many representatives of agencies assisting in their success.
The graduates’ mentors – Robbin Alex, USA/USAF; Howard Ball, USMC; Eddie Nelson, USA/USAF; and Joe Thode, USA – are all volunteers and were also honored for their dedication and hard work.
Polland thanked his young daughter, Isabella, for keeping him on track. Larry Hart told of his rocky start when his only granddaughter was killed days after he started. “If I could get through that,” he told the current participants
in the program who were in attendance, “you can get through anything.” He also told them he’d always be available to them for help during their recovery. “We never leave a man behind.”
Nebraska Senator John McCollister said, “Veterans courts are cost effective and are proving to be an extremely productive way to deal with veterans coming into the justice system.” He said they lead to better outcomes for offenders and hopefully help with prison overcrowding as well.
The program was established in November 2016 with the support of the Nebraska Legislature and the Douglas County Board. It joined a list of problem-solving courts already in operation in Nebraska, including Adult Drug Court, Young Adult Drug Court, Family Drug Court, DUI Court, and Juvenile Drug Court.
Nebraska Senator John McCollister said, “There’s no way most of us here can appreciate the trials and tribulations [these veterans have been through]. Acknowledging this, I can sincerely
applaud each and every one of you. Congratulations on a job well done.”
Justice Stephanie Stacy told the crowded Douglas County Legislative Chambers, “Problem-solving courts are transformative … those here have seen those transformations. Treatment courts can change the trajectory of lives, restore families and they strengthen communities.” She noted that national statistics of repeat offenders are “grim” but that problem-solving courts like this can radically improve those statistics.
Douglas County District Court Judge Mark Ashford, who oversees the court, said he’s glad Nebraska funded the program because PTSD and substance abuse are pervasive among veterans.
“I’m convinced a couple of these folks wouldn’t even be alive today,” he said. But the day didn’t linger on negatives; it concentrated on positives. Each of the four graduates agreed that the program had given them their lives back.
Air Force veteran Jimmy Weber played the guitar and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” in his beautiful, distinctive voice.
Mick Wagoner, retired military attorney, USMC and one of those who worked to create the Veterans Treatment Court, presented each graduate with a framed American flag. Judge Ashford presented them with golden dog tags reading “Honor Restored.” Some also were wearing their other dog tags commemorating
each success they had achieved in the program.
Wagoner, who is the founder and executive director of the non-profit Veterans Legal Support Network, reminded those in the audience that contributions to the non-profit foundation – the Omaha Metropolitan Veterans Treatment Court Foundation – helped to supplement extras not covered in the Court’s budget for the DCVTC.