Tucson's first graduates of Veterans Court - Tucson News Now

Tucson's first graduates of Veterans Court

By Barbara Grijalva - email

Veterans of war can have a hard time adjusting to civilian life.

Sometimes that difficulty can get them in trouble with the law.

Tucson is one of the first cities to have a Veterans Court that addresses their unique needs.

The first graduates of the court got their certificates 

They've had problems with the law for various reasons, but now, with the with the help of the Veterans Administration, dedicated volunteers and others, they are setting off heading off in a good direction for themselves and their families. 

"I'm proud today to announce that we have six people who have graduated from the veterans court," said Tucson City Court Judge Michael Pollard.

This graduation is the end of a process that is a collaborative effort between Tucson City Court, the Veterans Administration, the University of Arizona law school, and others. 

"The people that mentored me, stand behind me, made it a lot easier for me to participate in the program," said Air Force veteran Cleo Lewis.

After completing the program that includes counseling, misdemeanor charges against the veterans are dismissed.

But it was a long road to this point.

One reason.

It can be tough for a veteran, especially a combat veteran, to face the fact that he needs help.

That's especially for problems that might have been brought on by what he experienced in war.

Arizona Army National Guard veteran Parker Tibbetts said, "It's not easy to admit that you need help. You still think you have your combat armor on where ever you go."

"I thought for a while that it would go away if I just left it, you know. But after a while you realize it's not going to get any better and it'll keep piling on," said Marine veteran George McDow.

Marine veteran and new University of Arizona law school graduate John Barwell helped develop the program, and volunteered to help the veterans through the program.

"After educating the veteran defendant about what the program's about, they'll opt in and get the services that they might need from the VA in order to correct whatever behaviors it is that's causing them to get in trouble in the first place," Barwell said.

There was a lot of pride in that courtroom.

It was time to celebrate.

The veterans have served their country.

This is one way to say, thank you.

Judge Pollard said, "I think society has a debt that they owe to the veterans for the service that they've provided to their country."

Tibbetts said, "I went through the program. Quietly. Did what I was told to do, and got myself out of trouble."

Barwell says this is only the beginning.

He's hoping the program will expand so law students and attorneys can help veterans, for free, negotiate the system to get the benefits they deserve.

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