Two years ago, Matthew Gaddy’s life was spinning out of control. A United States Navy veteran of the First Gulf War, Gaddy was drinking heavily and using a concoction of medications to try to ease his isolated loneliness.

In August 2017, he was eventually arrested on multiple charges relating to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance, in an incident he has since called “idiotic.”

Living in a “high world,” at the time, Gaddy said the path he was walking was either headed for jail or something worse.

But then came Veterans Court, which Gaddy said ultimately saved his life.

On Monday afternoon before a packed crowd inside a conference room at the Kokomo YMCA, Gaddy had an opportunity to share his story during the first Howard County Veterans Court graduation ceremony.

“I haven’t had a drink since Dec. 26, 2017, and all the medications I was on, I ended up getting off those things,” he said on Monday. “I’m clear headed and out in the community now. The difference between where I was then and where I am now is 180 degrees.”

Along with Gaddy, four other participants were also honored on Monday as recent graduates of Veterans Court, including U.S. Army veterans Michael Scircle, Thomas Hobbs and Cory King, as well as U.S. Air Force veteran Corrie Jarvis.

All five men have been forever changed by the power of a second chance.

Veterans Court began in May 2018 and meets every Monday in Judge Brant Parry’s Superior Court 2. It is one of several problem-solving courts offered in Howard County. The court, which is application-based, essentially offers offenders from Howard, Fulton, Miami and Cass counties who have served in military service the opportunity to enter the program rather than go to jail.

If those individuals complete the program, their criminal charges will then be dismissed, though the court doesn’t allow certain charges, such as battery or other crimes that inflict harm against other people or animals.

There are four phases to Veterans Court, labeled with the military monikers Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. Each phase lasts a minimum of 90 days, and participants are given incentives or sanctions depending on their progression through each phase.

“It’s an invaluable tool for the justice system to use,” coordinator Richard Cotterell said. “In normal criminal justice, you could go to jail or go to prison. You’d have this on your record for the rest of your life. Our goal as a problem solving court is not necessarily to keep you out of jail, but to get you the help that you need in order to help you not get into that situation again.”

Cotterell also noted that while in Veterans Court, the participants are given access to several counseling opportunities and in-patient treatment plans. Participants are also required to meet with a case manager and other providers on a regular basis, and they are also paired with a mentor – also a military veteran – who walks with the offender throughout the entire program.

John Salmon is one of the program’s mentors.

“These guys, when they get out of the service, it’s a whole different world,” he said. “It’s like someone pulled the string out from under them, so they get off balance. And a lot of them have issues from what they saw [while in war]. We have a good number of veterans who have that issue. Some of them then start drinking and doing drugs because they’re trying to find themselves in a different world and different life.”

And that’s why something like Veterans Court is so needed, Salmon noted.

“We need to do something to let them know that people care and that there are good things waiting for them,” Salmon said. “That’s what this court does. The counseling they get is incredible. I think for these guys, it’s exactly what they need.”

As it often takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to get an American hero back on his or her feet, those interviewed after Monday’s ceremony noted.

Michelle Lee has been with Howard County’s Veterans Court since the beginning. A Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator with VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, Lee said the Veterans Court offers a chance to heal what others can’t often see.

“A lot of these guys come back from combat, and their wounds are invisible,” she said. “We then begin to see them in their behaviors as the years go by, so we’re then able to address them. There are Veterans Courts popping up all over the country because they have seen that it’s an effective program. … We’re all trying to get these veterans back on track.”

And getting their lives back on track is exactly what the five Veterans Court graduates have done while members of the program.

From continuing their education to finding new employment to becoming new husbands and fathers, all five men feel they are now prepared to live a completely renewed life.

“I think this [Veterans Court] has allowed me to make the most of our precious commodity, which is time,” Gaddy said. “Before, I wasn’t living. I was surviving. Now I’m living. But this is just the beginning. This just gets us in the right direction. It’s now up to us to continue this process.”

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