Preparing for possible veterans court

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Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Augusta, GA (WRDW)- "Maybe it's a bad habit or a life choice that is exacerbated by the service of that veteran having been in combat," said veteran Timothy Pendergast.

Some of those choices can land them behind bars, and the Richmond County jail has started keeping track of the number of veterans arrested here.

"Whenever they decide if they do have a veteran court we'll be ahead of the game and we'll have something to start off with to help these veterans," said Major Gene Johnson.

It's something Augusta has tried before. Veterans with a non-violent felony charge would receive treatment rather than punishment through a veterans court.

"Our veterans that have been deployed more than one time are dealing with a big readustment to civilian life," said Rick Herring.

Timothy Pendergast was a soldier for 26 years. He's a civilian now.

"When I transitioned out in 2005 I sort of lost my identity to a certain degree. When I got out I had an i.d. card, but I had to start life over again," said Pendergast.

Pendergast says former soldiers tend to suppress issues once they get out of the military. They don't have commanders to steer them and problems can surface, but he thinks a vet court will help get them back on the right path.

"That enhances their ability to rebuild their life, to overcome that challenge and then become productive members of society," said Pendergast.

Rick Herring with the Augusta Warrior Project says a lot of the reason vets end up in jail is because of brain injury and post traumatic stress.

"Often times I see that it does get medicated often on their own regime with their own drugs and alcohol," said Herring.

Charles Snyder is a homeless veteran who had to overcome his own addictions.

"What I see from the guys that I was in the program with are these guys that are coming back with injuries and they're getting hooked on the opiates," said Snyder.

Herring says having a vet court could be the best thing for the men and women who served their country in some dangerous places.

"Having that second chance with a lot of after care, follow up, and accountability," said Herring.

There are about six veterans courts already up and running in Georgia and South Carolina started its first veterans court back in 2012.