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Former soldier is 'different person' after Veterans Treatment Court

Posted April 26, 2016

— A man who was estranged from his family one year ago has a local program to thank for his recovery and reconciliation.

Veterans Treatment Court, a Cumberland County program that helps veterans avoid jail time and rebuild their lives, celebrated its first graduate Tuesday night. For the men and women who serve and fall on hard times, the program serves as a second chance.

It was just a few short steps for Afghanistan veteran Garrett Vann to approach the podium, but the moment was a year in the making.

“It has turned things from not really sure what’s going on in my future to now I have plans and I’ve started to achieve goals,” he said.

One year ago, Vann was homeless, struggling with substance abuse, and estranged from his family.

“We didn’t have a good relationship around a year ago, really didn’t talk and that was due to what I was doing and now I’m a different person,” he said.

The program is run by Judge Lou Olivera. A former soldier himself, Olivera made national headlines when he spent the night in jail with Joseph Serna, another veteran going through the program.

“As a judge, I sit there and make rulings and I apply the law equally, but in rehabilitation, you have to be compassionate and understanding,” Olivera said.

The program admits veterans who suffer from a number of problems post-military service, including problems that often land them in jail.

Olivera said Vann’s graduation is proof that the program works.

“He has a job at the VA, he’s working on trying to get home. He has a car, he talks to his parents over the weekends, he’s clean for over a year,” Olivera said of Vann.

Olivera said understanding the impact of combat trauma is part of the success of the program, which began in November after receiving a $70,000 grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission.

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  • Anne Havisham Apr 27, 2016
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    Wonderful! My congratulations to Mr. Vann, Judge Olivera, and others who are making a difference in their lives and others' through programs like this one.

    We need to give genuine consideration to when we, as a society, benefit more from punishing those who break laws and when we benefit more by offering people a chance to make changes to their lives.

    I realize there may be some people whose actions truly require both. If we send people from incarceration to the outside world without helping them change, adjust, or contribute to society in a productive manner, we are setting them up for failure.

    Some people may need extra help in attaining better lives. It serves them and our communities best if they receive that support.