AUSTIN (KXAN) - This night before Veterans Day marks the one year anniversary of a court program that gives veterans a second chance.
The Travis County Veterans Court Program allows service members with combat related issues, who get into trouble, to get help rather than jail time.
Thursday night not only marked an anniversary for the program, but also a milestone - with its first graduate.
Shane Bryant joined the Navy in 1990, served in Desert Storm, Desert Shield and other tours in Somalia and Zaire.
But long after his military days were done, he says post traumatic stress disorder lingered.
"When you come back into civilian life it just kind of falls apart," said Bryant.
Eventually a criminal charge landed him in front of Judge Mike Denton and in the Travis County Veterans Court Program.
"Either you are going to make it in this program or your not. It's a good opportunity for veterans to get into this program and clear their record, get that second chance," said Bryant.
Now, after a year of intensive, court supervised, team-based counseling, treatment and supervision...Bryant is graduating and eligible to have his criminal charge dismissed.
More than two dozen other veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries or other mental health conditions related to military service---are working toward that same goal.
The program reduces repeat offenses and helps veterans reintegrate into civilian life by addressing root causes of criminal behavior like mental health and substance abuse.
Brandon Fojtasek, a marine who joined boot camp just weeks before 9/11, is now working toward a career in fisheries and biology.
"I'm very thankful beyond belief that I'm not just thrown away and it's nice to be able to gain my composure as a Marine and as an American," said Fojtasek.
Judge Denton says the program is really just an extension of military service.
"Since the beginning of time in every Army there's always been a phrase no one gets left behind and this program is just part of that. We're ensuring we're bringing these folks all the way home," said Judge Denton.
A collaboration among local and state public agencies coordinated by the Travis County Court Administration makes the program possible.
The Texas Criminal Justice Division of the Office of the Governor and the Veterans Commission provides grand funding support.
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