Veterans Court gives second chance in, out of St. Tammany justice system

COVINGTON, La. --  More than 28,000 veterans call St. Tammany Parish home.

Some of those veterans are still fighting battles brought on by their pasts, and as a result, a few have found themselves in criminal trouble.

Corey Lewis is one of them.

He joined the Army as a teenager with hopes of making a better life for himself and his soon-to-be daughter.

Lewis served until 2012, seeing two deployments, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, in that time.

"Lost a few good people while we were over there," Corey Lewis said.

In 2015, Lewis says a medication reaction spun him into a post-traumatic stress disorder episode that put him behind bars for aggravated assault with a firearm. Corey Lewis pled guilty and was sentenced to three years of probation.

With almost a year left, Lewis is getting something he never expected out of that conviction: A true second chance through the 22nd Judicial District's new Veterans Court.

"I think that that's actually a very good thing that our government is looking out for us and is acknowledging that we have different needs other than normal civilians," Corey Lewis said.

Veterans Court is the latest in a handful of specialty courts being offered in St. Tammany and Washington parishes. The goal of the courts -- which also include focuses on DWIs, drugs and behavioral health -- is to reduce re-arrest, promote self-sufficiency through employment and education, and provide treatment and healing tailored to the offender's struggles.

For veterans with a misdemeanor or felony conviction, that treatment can be for anything from addiction to anxiety, and the assistance from the court ranges from housing needs to possible restoration of vet benefits.

Those who successfully graduate the program also have the opportunity to possibly clear their record of any criminal wrongdoing, said Judge Raymond Childress.

"They've earned our respect and are worthy of us going the extra mile for them," Chidress said.

Vietnam Air Force Veteran and founder of Ride of the Brotherhood Edward Lewis said because veterans often respond better when around other veterans, the program's team members consist mostly of fellow, volunteer veterans.

"We're going to have mentors that's going to work with them and help steer them in the right direction," said Edward Lewis.

Though the program has only been in place for a week, veterans like Edward Lewis say they're confident this could be the path to finding themselves again.

Grants, in addition to fees paid by the offenders, currently cover the cost of these specialty courts. However, parish leaders say a tax renewal on the ballot this month will dedicate dollars to these courts, if approved, for the next ten years.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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