Veterans Court: Compassion plus discipline equals success

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They served our country and for different reasons their lives have fallen off track. Some of them now find themselves on the wrong side of law, battling personal issues and the legal system.

But one program is making a big difference in helping them get back on track. It's called Veterans Court.

Marine Corps veteran Terry Russell landed himself in Veterans Court after getting arrested last year for driving under the influence.

The past year has been a wake-up call. He's been required to check-in with the court on a daily basis, attend mandatory counseling sessions and get tested regularly to make sure he's staying clear of both drugs and alcohol.

It is no walk in the park.

"Oh no, no, no, no, no, it's not an easy process to go through," Russell told us. "Like I said you have to check in every day."

But the strict regimen is paying off for Russell and other veterans like him who benefit not only from the structured one year program but the respect they're given along the way.

"They have people to monitor you to say, O.K. you have that problem, this is the process you need to go through to get your life back together," Russell said.

Much of the credit for the program's success goes to a couple of longtime judges, Archie Blake and Peter Breen. They realized many veterans face special challenges because of what they've been through and where they've been. And the traditional courtroom experience can serve to simply compound those problems.

"They have a unique experience in life, being in the service, many being in combat," explained Judge Breen.

"It's not a social program," said Judge Blake. "The court makes people do what they're supposed to do, and they do it."

Blake understands because he served in Vietnam. An experience that allows him to bring a combination of toughness and compassion to the bench.

We saw that compassion first hand during one of Terry Russell's recent appearance before the judge. The two men actually hugged each other. On the record. In plain view of everyone who was watching.

It was recognition of how far Russell has come since hitting rock bottom.

"For me, it's a real personal connection," said Blake. All judges have different styles, but that personal connection with Terry is real for both of us. And I think it's very effective."

And now Russell, a tough as nails former marine who lost his way briefly in civilian life, looks forward to a bright future, thanks to a renewed sense of confidence as a graduate of Veterans Court.

It's something he wasn't sure he could do at first. But that changed along the way.

"After six months I said, I can do this," he explained.

"I proved something to myself."

Veterans Court is run through the Washoe District Court. Administrators say they have about a 75 percent success rate, that is 75 percent of those who graduate do not return to the program.

As for Terry Russell, he graduated earlier this summer and is now interviewing for a new full time job. We wish him well.

To learn more about the Veterans Court, click here.

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