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New Court For Veterans


Travis County started a court designed for veterans who are arrested for misdemeanor crimes.
But soon, the county will allow the veterans court to also look at some non violent, low level felonies.
64-year-old Teo Tuedas likes the idea.
He's a veteran of the Vietnam Conflict.
He says he returned and had constant nightmares.
It turns out, he had post traumatic stress disorder.
"You see the people that died, how you lived, how you lived when you came back.
Ruedas was a marine in Vietnam in the late 60's.
His flash backs were painful.
But he didn't get help for his PTSD until some 30 years later.
"A veteran really doesn't admit he needs help."
"There was a breaking point."
He turned to alcohol to cope.
It is still emotional for ruedas.
"That was it, I drank everyday. I worked everyday too. When work was over, I drank."
Ruedas says he was arrested for drinking and driving several times during the 1990s. But if a veterans court existed back then, he may have gotten the help he really needed, instead of landing in jail so many times."
Ruedas is one reason Precinct Four Constable, Maria Canchola, was instrumental in starting a veterans court in Travis County.
Canchola noticed many veterans making their way through the criminal justice system.
Most have substance abuse issues, post traumatic stress disorder, or brain injuries.
She says they needed help, not jail time.
"When they come home from war, they feel dead. They've numbed themselves out."
"One of the doctors mentioned to me what makes you think your veteran wants to go shopping with you when the night before, he was at war?"
Canchola knows firsthand how hard it can be for veterans dealing with ptsd.
She is married to Teo Ruedas.
"Can you stay with an alcoholic? Can you stay with someone who is living life dangerously? Recklessly? And they're not doing it because they're bad people."
Veterans have to qualify for their case to be heard in the specialty court.
Travis County Attorney, David Escamilla, says they have to be first-time offenders.
"When you combine first time offenders, a sense of wanting to be accountable for their actions and then having the va work with them and have a regiment of counseling."
So far, 10 veterans are in the program that started in November.
Soon, the court will hear certain non violent, low level felonies as well.
Judge Mike Denton oversees the court.
"There's undoubtedly there are young veterans that are coming back now and old veterans from previous conflicts that self medicate based on the ptsd they're afflicted with."
Twice a month, Judge Denton sees veterans charged mainly with Class A and B misdemeanors.
Most are drug related.
"They have those conditions because we sent them into combat so I think we owe those individuals."
Ruedas no longer needs counseling.
But his sacrifice didn't stop when he came home.
It continues as he is now battling cancer as a direct result of Agent Orange.
It's understandable that Ruedas has refused interviews until now.
It turns out, he had an agenda.
His time in Vietnam was painful and as a result, Ruedas says he hated the Vietnamese people and all asians.
He agreed to talk to me for a reason.
"I've always had real ill feelings toward the asian people because of what happened over there and I think it's about time I apologized for feeling that way."
It was an apology only Ruedas needed to hear.
The veterans court's goal is to intervene early and get those who served our country the help they need.
Getting veterans back to their lives that they deserve.
Looking to help young women and men who returned from service
According to Texas Military Forces, 847 veterans will return to Austin from deployment this year 2011.
That's on top on an estimated 60,000 veterans already in Travis County.
Follow Jenni Lee on Twitter@jennileeaustin.


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