This coming Saturday is Veterans Day, although the government insists we celebrate the holiday a day earlier — another example of bureaucracy dictating illogical stuff.
No matter, think of it as giving us two opportunities to honor those who have served in our military, and made sacrifices that many of us have never had to endure.
As most veterans know full well, combat leaves deep scars, some of which never heal. Suicide statistics for combat vets offer vivid testimony to the scarring notion. Those who do survive the horrors of war often cannot get away from the memories and nightmares, even long after they’ve left the service and done everything they can to blend back into a normal, American life.
For far too many of our service veterans, that just never happens. Alcoholism and drug abuse are constant companions for thousands of veterans. Good men and women before combat can come home as something and someone quite different.
In many cases, those victims of war need help, which here in North County is provided by the Veterans Treatment Court, which recently held is 11th graduation ceremony at Shepard Hall in the Santa Maria Public Library.
The program came about through the efforts of Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores, Judge Kay Kuns and others, and has gained significant community support over the years assisting veterans in getting the help they so desperately need to treat the grim effects of mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The year-long Veterans Treatment Court program promotes sobriety, recovery and stability, providing assistance with gaining access to Veterans Administration services and benefits. To graduate, participants must complete their treatment program and maintain their sobriety.
As it turns out, the VA really needs this kind of help. The federal agency is overwhelmed with cases of returning veterans needing medical and just about every other kind of help. Given the level of global hostilities, those needs will likely only increase in the future. Programs like Veterans Treatment Court fill in the gaps.
Fred Pratt was a speaker at the recent graduation ceremony. He was a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War before moving to Santa Maria, and has served as a mentor for veterans at the treatment court. Pratt explains that one of the main reasons he got involved is because its mission is to serve troops and save lives. And to that end, he said, “This program literally saves lives.”
Lives that, without programs like the Veterans Treatment Court, could end up being wasted. That is a national tragedy, considering what so many men and women go through on behalf of this nation and its citizens.
The seven veteran graduates this time around were all in the program because they wanted to be, because they realized that without help, all would be lost. For many of these veterans the spiral downward accelerates the longer they delay seeking help.
One of the grads spoke about the experience: “We all came into the program kicking and scratching, thinking we wouldn't finish it, but it's really helped me so much to become a better man, father, friend and brother.” The program helped him achieve academic excellence at Allan Hancock College, and he’s now got a full-time job.
That’s what the Veterans Treatment Court is all about, giving men and women on the edge of oblivion another chance, a way to escape the problems that have dogged them since leaving military service.
A lot of public agencies are involved, but it is the community’s support that makes these kinds of things work.