Court program helps Albuquerque veterans | KOB 4
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Court program helps Albuquerque veterans

Patrick Hayes
March 19, 2019 10:31 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nicholas Hodges grew up in Albuquerque, joined the Army and served during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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In 2017, he was arrested for drinking and driving.

Two years later, the Army veteran no longer drinks and helps other veterans facing prosecution.

Hodges said he turned his life around by going through a special program for veterans charged with misdemeanor crimes.

According to Hodges, he received a medical discharge after a run-in with a roadside bomb.

"(I) broke my C6 and T5 vertebrae in an IED explosion so just rehab for that, PTSD from stuff I've seen as well — I tore up my shoulder pretty good,” he said.

Up to 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Veterans Administration.

“Outside of getting hurt in Iraq, the military experience was pretty awesome,” Hodges said.

However, he said the injuries to his body and brain made it impossible to function so he turned to alcohol.

"I'm allergic to basically any major pain pill you can give me…so I was healing from major injuries with Tylenol, so I kind of substituted that with drinking – got a little out of control and that wound me up where I was,” he said.

In April 2017, Hodges was arrested for drinking and driving.

But thanks to Albuquerque Metro Court’s Community Veterans Court, Hodges did not have to serve any time behind bars because he met the program’s rigorous requirements.

Officials say the program looks to treat the underlying problems that may have caused a former service member to commit a crime.

In Hodges’ case, he was using alcohol to treat his pain and PTSD.

"I was definitely self-medicating with alcohol at that point,” he said.

Nearly 60 veterans have gone through the program which was started in 2016 by now-Chief Judge Sandra Engel.

"I'm not trying to seek out a veteran and say you get a better deal than the other,” said Engel.

“What I'm trying to do is get them specialized treatment so that we're really dealing with their issues instead of the one-size-fits-all probationary model,” she added.

The program requires veterans to check in with the court, a mentor and a probation officer as much as the program’s presiding judge sees fit.

It also connects them with local resources for treatment.

Hodges found comfort by working with therapy horses at Southwest HorsePower.

"Horses are masters of even when they get worked up takes them about 30 seconds, you calm them down they don't even remember,” Hodges said.

“They're just like whatever so we try to get people to see that in themselves and not get worked up over something stupid,” he said.

"It seemed like he was struggling with a lot of things," Engel said. "We tried different things to offer him and what he really took to was the equine therapy."

According to the judge, less than 10 percent of people who go through the program go back to jail.

In the meantime, Hodges said he hopes other veterans will take the help seriously even if they’re not part of the program.

“If you're a veteran, go to your veteran center, the VA, if you're not a veteran go to your local substance abuse center and find those flyers. Just don't throw them in the trash. Find these people who want to help you and go get that help before you end up going down the path that will land you in court, land you in jail or worse dead.”

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Patrick Hayes

Copyright 2019 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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