Four veterans were meant to graduate from Veterans Treatment Court during a ceremony Friday, but Navy veteran Edward Smith sat by himself in the front row.
The 63-year-old, dressed in a gray suit, was the only graduate who attended and received his recognition.
It has been over a year since the Las Vegas veteran started the one-year program, over a year since the night he was arrested for domestic battery, and he was ready to start fresh.
“We made some sacrifices for our country,” he said. “This makes me feel worthy.”
The graduation at the Regional Justice Center was the culmination of the four-part Las Vegas Justice Court program, which provides an alternative to incarceration and offers veterans treatment, accountability and structure while connecting them to services and benefits.
“This is an especially significant graduation, as you all know, as it coincides with the upcoming Veterans Day,” Justice of the Peace Harmony Letizia said. “Each of our veterans that are being honored today fought for our freedom, and I sincerely thank you all for being here today for theirs.”
At the graduation, 14 other veterans were promoted to different stages of the program, which was created to help offset the complications of the some 700,000 veterans in the criminal justice system nationwide, many of them arrested on charges directly related to trauma, addiction or mental illness.
Left untreated, the issues make it difficult for veterans to adjust to everyday life and can lead to unemployment, homelessness and arrest.
To progress and graduate, the veterans must attend treatment sessions, counseling and appointments, develop goals for their future, obtain housing, be financially stable, and be drug- and alcohol-free for a minimum of 90 days before graduation.
The Las Vegas Justice Court program currently has about 30 members in the program, Letizia said, adding that the program has a 96 percent success rate, and that only 4 percent of graduates re-offend.
In nonviolent cases, the charges are dropped, and the court records are sealed, she said.
Army veteran and state Sen. Pat Spearman said that the program gives the criminal justice system a chance to look at extenuating circumstances in a veteran’s case.
“This is what we owe our veterans when we ask them to serve,” she said. “It’s only very recently that we acknowledged PTSD and how it plays a part in how a veteran begins to look at the world.”
After Smith accepted his certificates from U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and U.S. Reps. Dina Titus and Jacky Rosen and The Armed Forces Chamber of Commerce Foundation, he was given a quilt from Quilts of Valor representative Jarenie Trachier.
“We wrap you with our love,” she said as she covered his shoulders with the red, white and blue quilt, sewn with patches of stars and fireworks.
Richard Forbus, a Marine veteran and Metropolitan Police Department deputy chief of the detention services division, commended the veterans.
“It takes a lot of guts to look in the mirror and decide to change yourself. Look what you’ve done for your family, your friends, and your loved ones, ” he said. “Don’t forget the way you feel today, don’t forget the way you felt in these steps, because this is not an easy program.”
Smith said that during the program he found that both the prosecution and the defense were “on his team” and wanted him to succeed. And, he said, “I learned to be true to myself.”
Contact Briana Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.