By Isaac Hoops and Kristen Hackbarth | Images by Isaac Hoops
Nine veterans in the second class of graduates from the CAMO-RNO Veterans Court program were honored Tuesday in a ceremony outside the Second Judicial District Court. The honorees completed 12 or more months within the program and had their criminal charges dismissed and records sealed.
The Hon. Shelly T. O’Neill presided over the ceremony, handing out “Mission Accomplished” certificates and providing each graduate a chance to say a few words.
“Of graduations and ceremonies, this is the second most important one in my life,” said veteran and graduate David Ayo. “I retired after 24 years, and it’s been tough. I should have help about 15 years ago. But I’m glad to be standing here today. If it weren’t for the CAMO-RNO vet court I doubt I’d be here today.”
CAMO-RNO, which is short for Court Assisting Military Offenders in Reno, is a diversionary specialty treatment court for veterans only with enhanced misdemeanor offenses. The program launched in October 2018 after passage of Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 176A.280 and provides substance abuse and mental health treatment, possible diversion and record sealing for eligible veterans. The program also serves qualified defendants from rural courts outside the jurisdiction.
O’Neill said many people may question the need for a veterans’ treatment court but said that in reality it not only saves lives, families and futures, but taxpayer dollars as well.
“The majority of our veterans return home strengthened by their military service, but many struggle with trauma, mental illness such as PTSD and substance use disorders,” O’Neill said. “These issues can be exacerbated by the loss of structure and camaraderie found in the military. Veterans treatment courts provide treatment, accountability, and mentoring and help connect justice-involved veterans with the benefits they have earned.”
O’Neill went on to state that 460,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the U.S. suffer from PTSD or depression, 345,000 have a substance use disorder, and 181,500 are incarcerated. She also said that Nevada’s veteran population is larger than many other states, at about 10 percent of the population versus an average of about six percent in the rest of the country.
“There are currently 1,025 veterans imprisoned in the Nevada State Prison. In 2016, 126 Nevada veterans committed suicide. Treatment courts are the answer,” O’Neill said.
The CAMO-RNO Veterans Court is one of 354 veteran treatment courts operating in the U.S. and serving 15,000 vets, according to O’Neill. The court was awarded a $277,237 grant by the U.S. Department of Justice on Sept. 25, 2018 and is currently in the process of applying for an enhancement grant.
Tuesday’s ceremony, held outdoors despite gusty winds and with all attendees wearing face masks, was a reminder of the unique circumstances this graduating class faces as they move ahead with their lives.
“This whole 2020 year has been crazy; it’s been one thing after the other,” said graduate Eduardo Duran. “But if there’s one thing that I can take out of this, and every other person that’s been in this program, it’s that you’ve got to keep pushing forward no matter what life throws at you—you’ve got to just keep pushing forward. One day you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel and be where you want to be at. We’re all here together.”