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Shelby County Veterans Court graduates largest class: ‘All of them had gone through a lot of pain to get where they are’

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. -- A class is celebrating graduation, but they aren’t your typical students. It’s nearly two dozen participants in the Veterans Court program with the Shelby County Court system.

The program’s meant to help veterans get back on the right path after committing crimes.

Every day, men and women in the military proudly serve our country.

“As a result of that service, many of them have come back damaged," said Jerry Easter, coordinator for Veterans Court.

They can be damaged physically, emotionally and mentally.

“You serve for your country and come back thinking you’re OK, but you’re really not," said Stanley Henderson, a Navy veteran.

Henderson is one of many veterans who came back and found himself struggling, ending up on the wrong side of the law.

He said he was facing jail time for a DUI until he came across the Shelby County Veterans Court.

“It turned my life totally around," said Henderson.

The court is for veterans who end up in the criminal justice system, with the exception of those accused of sex crimes and crimes against children.

They’re each given a tailored program of rehabilitation or treatment instead of jail time, with the hopes of them being back on the right track in about a year.

“I think our veterans deserve every chance and opportunity that they can get for what they’ve given for this country," said Army Veteran Skip Collins.

On Wednesday, a group of 24 veterans joined the 170 others who have successfully made it through the program.

“All of these graduates have had significant issues," said Easter. "All of them have worked hard. All of them had gone through a lot of pain to get where they are.”

With 24 people in it, it’s the largest graduating class the Veterans Court has seen since starting just about five years ago.

“It changes your life because you know you have some issues and you work those out, and I’m ready to move on to this next page," said Henderson.

Some of these veterans will have their records expunged by completing the program.

The majority of all the participants in the Veterans Court have come in due to problems with alcohol.