Valley veterans are getting a second chance

FRESNO, Calif.

"Standing in front of you is a living miracle," said Marine Vet Samuel Betancourt. Betancourt got chocked up while speaking at his graduation ceremony from Veterans Court. "I ran afoul of the law for a little while and I just didn't know what to do and Veterans Court just helped me put my life back together," said Betancourt.

Betancourt served overseas for four years but when he returned from his second combat tour in Afghanistan in 2005, he was a different person. "When we come back we're not the same person we were when we left because a lot of the stuff that we witness and we see. So I struggled with that," said Betancourt.

Betancourt turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was arrested on multiple drug-related charges but all that is now behind him. Instead of being locked up, Betancourt enrolled himself in a mental health treatment program. The 18-month course is designed to give injured Vets caught up in the legal system a second chance.

Supporters say this preferential treatment is something these heroes have earned. "It's not a free ride. If they fail then there are consequences to their failure. But if they succeed then they get their charges dismissed. It's like it never happened," said Judge Darryl Ferguson of Tulare County Superior Court.

"I feel for all the other mothers whose kids didn't come back. And I told Sammy, you came back so now you need to do something with your life to help the others," said Anita Betancourt, Samuel's mother.

Even though the first graduating class was a small one, more Vets are going through the program hoping to get another shot at life.

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