INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - A relatively new program recognized the work of 13 veterans Friday who have suffered because of their time in the military.
Veterans court allows service men and women to enroll in treatment, allowing them to stay out of jail and possibly see their criminal charges dropped.
Vets in the program were recognized for graduating with an hour-long ceremony at the Indiana World War Memorial auditorium.
The Indianapolis Veterans Court (IVC) celebrated its second anniversary of serving men and women. Including Friday's ceremony, 21 veterans have graduated from IVC.
“Our program is a treatment-oriented court," said Marion County Superior Court Judge David Certo, who also runs the IVC. "You go to treatment, the court helps support you and encourage you, and hold you accountable in doing that because you get better outcomes when you go consistently to treatment.”
The program is completed by veterans in phases, and can take 12 to 18 months overall.
Each participant is paired with a mentor who is also a veteran. Each veteran, rather than going to jail, promises to engage in treatment for mental health or substance abuse disorders or physical injuries.
They're also promising to find work and permanent housing, along with other benefits through the IVC and partnering programs. When a participate graduates, they may have their criminal charges dismissed or expunged.
"It's powerful to a veteran to know your charge might be dropped," said Certo.
Rebecca Mills, who spent nearly nine years in the Navy, was one of Friday's 13 graduates.
“I know I wouldn’t be here today if veterans court didn’t exist," Mills said while holding back tears. "I probably would be in jail, but they gave me hope.”
Mills said she was on 13 different medications during the lowest part of her life.
“I kind of lost myself, my health went south and I thought there was a pill for everything," she said.
Besides graduations, three other veterans were recognized for advancing to the next phase of their treatment.
Daniel Coyne, a who serviced in the United States Marine Corps, has approximately one month to go on this treatment.
“I had multiple traumatic brain injuries and I had a hard time coping with a lot of different things that most people would find easy," said Coyne.
Coyne said it was a much better option than time behind bars.
"You can't be a father in jail," he said. "You just can't do it."
The IVC is currently handling close to 50 different veteran cases. That number will soon expand to a hundred, thanks to a grant through the Department of Corrections.
“Each week I get a list of 30 to 40 veterans who have been arrested for all causes but our program is voluntarily," said Certo. "If you don’t want to do veterans court, you don’t have to but if you want to continue to do good things, if you want to get treatment and get your charge dismissed veterans court might be a great option.”