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Local Vets Graduate from Veterans’ Court

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Eight military veterans from the Pittsburgh area graduated Thursday from the Allegheny County Veterans Court program which started on Veterans' Day in 2009.  The initaitve offers drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services and employment help to veterans who are facing criminal charges. Veterans who complete the program can have charges dropped or their criminal record erased.

Common Pleas Judge John Zottola, who supervises the court, said Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  is common in returning vets. 

“The Veterans Administration has been terrific in their efforts as they continue to prove their efforts in dealing with the veterans who suffer from PTSD and enter into our court.”

PTSD, depression, and alcohol problems can lead to veterans getting into legal troubles.

Zottola said the program has grown over the last three years.

“We went from one day a month, having Veterans Court, to now having it two days a month,” said Zottola. “And I can only see it growing to more and more as more people in he community become more aware that there is a veterans court and begin to refer veterans who are 'justice involved' and if the crime types are appropriate.” 

Former Steeler great Rocky Bleier was one of the guest speakers at the graduation ceremony.  Bleier, who was seriously wounded in Vietnam, told the veterans that while he was recovering in a hospital in Tokyo, he was wondering what was going to happen to him, just as many military personnel do as they get ready to come back home.  Bleier, a running back at Notre Dame before he was drafted by the Army, recalled receiving a postcard that gave him hope, gave him an opportunity.  The postcard was from Steelers' owner Art Rooney saying the team needed him. 

Bleier cited the warrior's ethos to never leave behind a wounded comrade. "We didn't leave you behind," said Bleier.  He said like him, they have an opportunity, a choice.  "It's your choice to move forward from here with the opportunities that exist, with the support that is in this community, with the judges we have.  With that, I congratulate you, I salute you, I thank you."