The first graduate of the Denton County Veterans Court Treatment Program received a round of applause as he stood before Judge David Garcia in a Denton courtroom recently.
But even more important, the young Marine now has a clean start — a second chance provided by successful completion of this valuable program.
Approved by Denton County commissioners in 2009, the program is a collaborative process between the court, defense counsel and prosecutors to treat combat-related mental health conditions that lead to criminal behavior.
The court wants to provide a second chance for veterans, but the program has a strict screening process. The court will consider some felony cases, but those convicted of sex offenses, crimes against children, felony driving while intoxicated charges, intoxication assault, all aggravated violent offenses and manslaughter cases are excluded.
Forrest Beadle, veterans court prosecutor with the Denton County District Attorney’s Office, said the vast majority of cases involve misdemeanor convictions. Since 2010, an estimated 50 veterans have applied. Four currently are enrolled, and the court looks to have a dozen participants by the end of the year.
After being screened and accepted into the program, veterans must attend weekly meetings in a courtroom, closed for confidentiality purposes. The program involves three stages, and all cases will be deferred depending on the length of time needed to graduate.
During the treatment meetings — briefings before Garcia on the participant’s status — the court goes over ways to make the program stronger and how to build community partnerships.
“During a recent meeting, we were discussing the demographics of the higher rate of suicide related to PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and how to help overcome this with our vets,” Beadle said.
Once a veteran graduates, the Denton County District Attorney’s Office will wipe his or her criminal record clean.
We first commented on the program back in November, stating that we believed that it could provide a lifeline for some veterans, and now that the first graduate has finished, we are even more optimistic about its potential to help.
The first graduate is a great example of someone wanting to do better in life, Beadle said. Like many other veterans who come home and struggle to deal with the emotional and physical effects of combat, the young Marine ran into problems, but he worked hard to overcome them and earn a new start.
“[He is] a truly stellar veteran and Marine,” Beadle said.
The program offered him a lifeline, and he took it, and we believe his example will help other veterans seek the help they need.
Beadle, a U.S. Army veteran, said one of his favorite quotes is “It takes the strength and courage of a warrior to ask for help.”
The program’s first graduate personifies that statement, and we believe that many more veterans will follow him and find the new start they deserve.