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Heroes: Giving veterans a second chance

11:40 AM, Feb 2, 2012   |    comments
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Clearwater, Florida -- They've served their country, but the last thing most people would want is for our veterans to serve time in jail.  A Pinellas-Pasco County judge is trying to keep that from happening.

A year ago, Judge Dee Anna Farnell created the Veterans Drug Court--meant to allow veterans to avoid jail time.  Instead, they get the help they need.

Lester Saylor was one of the first graduates of the Veterans Drug Court.  He served in the Army for more than 20 years and is proud of his many medals an commendations.  But he's not proud of an incident nearly two years ago.

"I played a cat-and-mouse game with the drug," said Saylor. "And I got caught with it."

In April 2010, Saylor was arrested for felony possession of cocaine. 

Saylor says he was never a drug user while he was in the Army.  But after retirement, he was prescribed painkillers for service-related injuries and started associating with the wrong crowd when he returned home.  On the day he was arrested, Saylor learned a close friend had died in a traffic accident.

Saylor could have been sent to jail for 18 months.  Instead, he ended up in the Veterans Drug Court.  In the year he reported to the court, Saylor and the other graduates completed everything Judge Farnell required.  They paid  court fines, underwent monthly drug testing and got counseling for their addictions.  In exchange, they get their criminal charges dismissed.

"I think it's so important because they've given so much and they've suffered so much," said Judge Dee Anna Farnell.  "But yet, it's important so that they don't feel by themselves alone. And we thought that having a veterans drug court, would put everybody together to where they may share some of the same issues that they have."

Saylor gushes about Judge Farnell--calling her one of the greatest people he's ever met.  And he's making her a promise:

"I don't want to disappoint her and I will not disappoint her," said Saylor.

Currently there are about 50 veterans going through the drug court's treatment program--representing all branches of the military.

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