Veterans Court helps steer vets away from jail - CBS46 News

Veterans Court helps steer vets away from jail and off the streets

Posted: Updated:

Too many veterans are living on the streets homeless, and many who do are also addicts.

Fulton County now has a one-of-a-kind Veterans Court that helps steer vets away from jail and toward a life on their own.

Darell Falconer is a Marine who's going through the Veteran's Court. He showed where he used to live on the streets in what's called a ‘cathole'.

Looking back, here's how Falconer describes his old home.

"This is the hell on earth that they speak of. Old dirty condoms, feces, urine," Falconer said.

His ‘cathole' is under the shadows of downtown, buried in overgrown trees. It's a hollowed out apartment complex. His old room is disgusting, with sheetrock falling down, windows broken, nasty clothes on the floor and an empty bucket that was his bathroom.

Two years ago, Falconer was facing jail time on a drug charge, but there was one way he could avoid it. As a Marine, he was eligible for a relatively new 'Veterans Court' in Fulton County. It was created to give vets a second chance via counseling and drug rehab.

Georgia's first Vets Court graduate is Reggie Woodard. He's is a former Navy sailor who spent decades homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Thanks to his hard work, and support from the court, today he's drug free, working and off the streets.

"It made me feel good about myself and I'm not living that way no more today," Woodard said.

Superior Court Judge Todd Markle presides over Veterans Court. He does it voluntarily on top of his normal case load. He pairs the struggling addicts with other veterans who volunteer to be their mentor.

Falconer's mentor is fellow Marine Kyle Moore. Moore is an attorney who knows all too well that Falconer could end up back in jail if he's not diligent about his recovery.

We met up with Falconer and Moore one day at court. For the last year and a half, Falconer was clean and sober. But on this day, when other vets were checking in with Judge Markle with progress, Falconer had to step up and explain a setback. He relapsed.

"He drank alcohol to the point where he told me he got drunk," Moore said.

When Judge Markle saw Falconer's failed drug test results, it was a gut punch.

"Absolutely, absolutely, my heart sunk. I mean, my heart goes out to all these guys," Markle said.

In Veterans Court, vets have to stay clean or sanctions can involve jail time.

Because Falconer was honest about his relapse, Judge Markle didn't put him back in jail. He asked Falconer to re-commit to the program, talk to his counselors and submit to daily drug testing.

Moore knows Falconer can beat his addiction.

"He can recite the touchstones of how to overcome his addictions better than some of the counselors in the program, so he's got all the tools," Moore said.

Markle believes in Falconer too.

"This is a setback but he's definitely not back to where he was when he came into the program," Markle said.

Falconer doesn't want to go back to the cathole. He wants the applause from graduating Vets Court like Woodard got when he graduated. However, every veteran in the program knows addiction is an enemy that never truly goes away.

Copyright 2014 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.