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OLYMPIA A special court designed to help veterans in Thurston County reached its five year anniversary this month.

Before the court started, county officials noticed more vets who had turned to alcohol, drugs or violence ending up in courtrooms. Many of the veterans were suffering from PTSD.

Since the veteran s court program started in 2009, Thurston County has seen 43 vets enter the program. More than half have graduated.

Veterans must pass a 2-year-long program and commitment. To avoid jail time, all of them must agree to undergo mental health and drug treatments, counseling plus community service. A big test is staying sober.

Most vets, including Shane Sullivan land in court for a misdemeanor, typically DUIs or domestic violence charges.

A real low moment was facing a judge via camera. They didn t even put me in the courtroom, said Sullivan, a disabled former Army veteran.

Sullivan will never forget the date 11/11/11. On Veterans Day, the 42-year-old was arrested for domestic violence. He was going through a divorce and his kids weren t talking to him.

Shane struggled with PTSD and alcoholism. His lowest point was getting arrested, but it actually turned into a high point. It saved his life.

Being able to feel I m not the big bad wolf. Without Veterans Court, I would ve been a continuing re-offender. One crime after another, said Sullivan

At the head of the court is Judge Brett Buckley, a veteran who has a personal stake in this program.

It does help that I am a veteran. I was a lawyer in the Army. My daughter is currently a JAG officer with the Army and about to be deployed to Afghanistan. So, as a parent, I think of her being the position of a lot of folks in veterans court are in. I look at them through that filter, said Buckley.

Sullivan has been sober for two-and-a-half years since his arrest and is now a mentor in the program.

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