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Louisville's Veterans Treatment Court Celebrates First Graduating Class

Rick Campbell’s life is slowly coming back together.He nearly lost everything, including his life, from chronic alcohol abuse triggered by a powerful depression that began after he left active duty in the Air Force. He didn’t die, but he got divorced and his relationship with his daughter, Angela, shattered. He said he was also charged with driving under the influence.“I was just sitting around drinking myself away,” he said.But on Tuesday, Campbell reached a new milestone in his road to recovery.  He, along with three other military veterans, became the first graduates of the Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court.The Veterans Treatment Court is funded by a $350,000 federal grant from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance and was launched just two years ago.  At the time, it was the first in Kentucky.The Veterans Treatment Court offers programs specifically for military veterans who suffer from substance abuse and mental health issues, according to a new release.Campbell said the program demands were, at times, frustrating and arduous.  Logistically, he struggled sometimes to make it to appointments and classes, but he found a way.  In fact, he said he didn’t miss a single one.“I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the program,” Campbell said. The two-year program requires participants to complete random drug and alcohol screenings and comply with mental health and substance abuse treatment, along with strict curfews, community service and regular meetings with peers and mentors.There are just more than 44,000 veterans residing in Jefferson County, said District Court Judge David Holton.  That is more than in any other Kentucky city. Post-traumatic stress disorder has been reported to affect 25 percent of all veterans returning from military duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Holton said.PTSD can often lead veterans to abuse alcohol and drugs, Holton said.  And substance abuse often results in job loss and homelessness, he added.“These are all ingredients that lead to the criminal justice system,” he said.In fact, more than 81 percent of veterans moving through the criminal justice system have substance abuse issues, Holton said.The first Veterans Treatment Court was established in New York state in 2008, Holton said, to help address these issues and keep veterans from being incarcerated.  Since then, more than 200 Veterans Treatment Centers have been established across the country.Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott said the program is menat to help heal what he calls the “wounds unseen”—the emotional scars soldiers bring back from combat.“It’s a long climb, it’s a hard climb, but for those who get to the top, they’re free, they’ve acquired the peace they’ve wanted for so long,” Scott said.And the two years Campbell spent climbing through the Veterans Treatment Court program were tough, but he said they were worth it, because now he has many years ahead.He's sober now.“I have fun being sober,” he said.And some of that fun includes his daughter, Angela.  Since graduating, Campbell is working to rebuild his once non-existent relationship with his daughter.“This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life," he said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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