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Another Voice: Veterans Treatment Court fills a critical need

By Dan Mitchell

I never wanted the distinction to say that my life was saved by a court system, but this is my experience. I’m sharing my story to bring attention to the revolutionary work being done by Judge Robert Russell and his team of professionals and volunteers at the Veterans Treatment Court.

I served in the Army as a medic from 1989-1993 and was a part of the deployments to the first Iraq war and Somalia. It only takes a moment for an experience to change a person’s life forever.

Post-traumatic stress is as real as a bone sticking out of your leg, and perhaps more sinister because it can’t be seen. That said, I do not in any way fault the military for the decisions I made that led me to Veterans Court, it is simply a significant contributing factor.

After leaving the military I knew that something had changed in my general mindset and ability to communicate with the people around me, but I couldn’t put a finger on it.

Gradually things got worse in the form of deepening depression, disassociation and alcohol abuse. I didn’t seek help from the VA during this decline, mostly because I didn’t trust them. I didn’t know about the support available at the VA and Vet Center.

Eventually, because of not taking my situation as seriously as I needed to and getting the right help, I drifted into a serious breakdown and loss of control.

In 2013 I was arrested for DWI. After repeated violations of my probation, and the loss of my family, friends and business, I was given an opportunity to enter the Veterans Treatment Court instead of going to jail. What I found there was beyond any kindness I could have imagined.

On the first day of court I was greeted with unexpected compassion, and a genuine positive regard for my well being. Being welcomed into this community was so powerful because at that point in my life no one was happy to see me. I had burned most bridges, and people were understandably distancing themselves from me.

My journey through Veterans Court was a completely positive, life-altering experience, and in 2016 I satisfied the conditions of the court. My final day of court, which we call graduation, was as powerful as the first.

It’s now my responsibility to my fellow veterans to call on our state officials to pass the Veteran’s Treatment Court bills introduced by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Sandy Galef.

Judge Robert Russell has created a lifeline for people suffering under illness and despair, and his work is continuing to save lives, restore families, and strengthen communities.

We are very grateful to our elected officials for allowing us to continue in these efforts to leave no veteran behind.

Dan Mitchell, of Amherst, deployed with the Army to Iraq and Syria.

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