Hoosier Heroes: Helping veterans overcome legal troubles, emotional struggles

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They served our country, but now they need some help.

Local veterans, struggling with PTSD and other emotional issues, have a new way to deal with their legal troubles while still getting the treatment they desperately need.

“If I didn’t have this opportunity, I’d definitely be in prison right now,” said Austin Justice, an Army veteran who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. “(This) allows me to get the treatment I need where I’m at.”

The program allows troubled veterans to appear in court via computer from their respective treatment facilities, instead of appearing personally in court.

“With this technology, we could in theory send a vet all the way to California for a PTSD program or TBI program and they could still be in court every week,” said Eric Dungan, a veterans justice outreach coordinator for the VA.

“Having those services available to help them isn’t just a second chance, it’s the right thing to do too,” said Delaware County prosecutor Jeff Arnold.

“It’s not a free ride by any stretch,” said Judge John Feick, who is utilizing the program in his Delaware County courtroom. “If we can monitor them and help them out, then why not do it?”

“Our veterans have more access to veterans assistance people than anyone else in the United States, and we’re pretty proud of that,” said Arnold.

“A lot of (veterans) not only saw a lot of things, but also did a lot of things that could lead to some serious emotional problems,” said Judge Dianna Bennington from Muncie City Court.

“It is a second chance, because I would be looking at felony or multiple felonies because of this arrest that I had,” said veteran Justin York.

“They care,” said veteran Charles Doss. “They want to see you succeed, they don’t want to see you fail.”

“No one’s naïve. We know that getting clean is hard when you add getting clean with stuff that happened in war which is the root of your self-medication we know there’s going to be issues,” said Dungan. “The accountability level is tremendously high. Guys are randomly drug screened, they are given breathalyzer tests. I monitor their treatment to monitor whether there are any problems or issues.”

“I feel so blessed to be a veteran (and) to have served my country,” said Justice.

Instead, Justice said he was looking forward to returning to work once he was finished with the program. His employer is keeping his job for him when he returns, and Justice is grateful.

“I gave up when I got in trouble (and) this kind of came out of left field,” he said. “Without the support of other veterans and vet court, my life would be totally different right now. I’d be in a prison somewhere, so I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.”

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