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Nebraska veterans court graduates first participants

OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska’s first problem-solving court for military veterans charged with felonies has graduated its first four participants to complete the program.

The Douglas County Veterans Treatment Court held a ceremony Wednesday honoring the graduates and dismissing their charges, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The graduates were facing prison sentences before entering the diversion program.

The court requires participants to adhere to a strict regimen of keeping a job, treating addiction, paying restitution and frequently meeting with the judge. It’s the first of its kind to be funded by Nebraska lawmakers.

Larry Hart, one of the graduates, said his program included addiction recovery and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Hart served two years in the Army. He said it’s helpful that the program also uses veterans as mentors and to provide legal support.

“One of the famous credos is never leave somebody behind,” Hart said. “We have kind of a trust between us that people in the military have.”

About two dozen veterans are currently participating in the treatment court, which is designed to handle about 30 people at a time.

District Judge Mark Ashford, who oversees the court, said he’s glad Nebraska funded the program because PTSD and substance abuse are pervasive among veterans.

“I’m convinced a couple of these folks wouldn’t even be alive today,” he said.

State Sen. John McCollister, who sponsored the bill creating the court, said the program is cost-effective and focuses on treatment, instead of punishment.

Nebraska Supreme Court Judge Stephanie Stacy said such diversion programs can reduce recidivism.

The graduates were given U.S. flags in wooden boxes and gold-colored dog tags that read, “Honor Restored,” for completing the court program.

Stacy told the graduates, “We are grateful for your service, and we are inspired by your example.”

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