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Here’s how it’s done: A North Carolina judge – and veteran – who sentenced a three-tour, PTSD-afflicted veteran to 24 hours in jail for a DUI offense, and noted how the offender trembled at sentencing, served the time with him. Judge Lou Olivera, 45, a Gulf War veteran who presides over an innovative Cumberland County veterans’ court, had sentenced Joseph Serna to a 24-hour jail stint after Serna admitted he’d lied about his urinalysis test. A married father of seven and Special Forces Green Beret sergeant who served three tours in Afghanistan, Serna has appeared multiple times in Olivera’s court as he struggles with sobriety.
When Serna showed up for his jail time, he was met by the judge explaining, “We’re going to turn ourselves in.” They spent the night in a single cell – Olivera gave him the bed and slept on mats on the floor – talking about their families and military service, Serna’s three tours in Afghanistan, the friends he lost and the injuries he suffered, “our dreams for us and our families, and the road to take us there.” A moved Serna said of the judge, “He stepped in there for me. I will never let him down again.” As for Olivera, he cited a story he’d read: “It talked about a soldier with PTSD in a hole. A family member, a therapist and a friend all throw down a rope to help the veteran suffering. Finally, a fellow veteran climbs into the hole with him. The soldier suffering with PTSD asks, ‘Why are you down here?’ The fellow veteran replied, ‘I am here to climb out with you.’”
Here’s a video of Judge Olivera explaining the origins and purpose of Veterans Court:
Email subscribers may click the title of this article to link to the video.
This article first appeared in CommonDreams.