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May 26, 2014

Never leave a veteran behind

Program helps soldiers reintegrate after brush with law

EDMOND — Sometimes it’s hard to understand why veterans would have legal problems when returning from war, said U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Joe Collins.

Collins served honorably after volunteering for active duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He returned from Iraq in April 2004, after a year of service.

Within a year, Collins became so sick with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that fear kept him prone on his bathroom floor for five days.

In the booklet, “The Endless Journey Back Home,” Collins explained that violence, aggression and risk-taking behavior is part of a soldier’s everyday life when in a war zone.

This behavior becomes normal, he said.

“If there isn’t someone to show the soldier that (their) behavior is normal for a war zone, but extreme when coming home, then often they don’t know the difference,” Collins said. “That’s what happened to me.”

PTSD has cost Collins his home, job and peace of mind. He lives with his mother and stepfather in their Edmond home.

An anxiety disorder, PTSD may develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. PTSD causes unrelenting fear and memories of their traumatic account, detachment with loved ones, sleep problems and being easily startled.

“It’s unfortunate that so many veterans have experienced the same thing and it caused them to get in legal trouble here at home,” Collins said.

Veterans who have experienced legal challenges from post combat trauma are getting a second chance from a program offered by the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office. The nearly three-year-old  Veterans Diversion Program is a collaborative effort of the DA’s office, NorthCare Behavioral Health and the Veterans Administration.

Although some veterans may not be a good fit for the Veterans Diversion Program, the goal always has been to never leave a veteran behind, said Catherine Burton, assistant DA.

“It is about pulling you up, holding you steady, and fixing what is broken so that you leave our program stable, housed, clean, educated and employed or with benefits,” Burton said. “We do not want repeat business.”

This effort has been done without much funding, Burton said.

One large donation of $20,000 for treatment at Northcare came from Edmond’s Maj. Ed Pulido and Warriors for Freedom, Burton said.

“We need a lot of help. But, we continue to do what we can everyday to make this program successful for so many,” Burton said.

The Veterans’ Families United Foundation voted in March to provide half of the donations made to its VFU Memorial Fund to provide transportation vouchers for veterans so they can meet the program requirements. All Memorial Funds are used to directly meet needs of veterans and/or their families.

Veterans’ Families United Foundation was founded by Collins’ mother Cynde Collins-Clark. VFU provides compassionate, holistic resources to encourage healing from combat trauma and a healthy transition from military service to civilian life.

The Veterans Diversion Program uses a military structure and evidence-based healing interventions, Collins-Clark said. Veterans are offered the necessary tools help them recover and restore hope in their lives.

TO LEARN MORE about the Veterans Diversion Program, visit http://tinyurl.com/q4rblct. For more information about Veterans Families United Foundation, visit http://veteransfamiliesunited.org.

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An entrance to the medium to maximum security Davis Correctional Facility located in Holdenville.

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